NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam pledged Thursday to improve the salaries of the state’s teachers amid criticism of his education commissioner who has proposed changes that include tying teacher licenses to student test data.
Haslam said at a news conference that by the time he leaves office he wants Tennessee’s teacher salaries to have grown more than teacher salaries in any other state.
“This is a long-term goal, and I think it is one of the most important ones we’ve taken on,” said the Republican governor, who is up for re-election for a second four-year term next year.
Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman joined Haslam and said the administration will review national state-by-state salary data each year to see that Tennessee’s teacher salaries are just as competitive.
According to the latest data from the National Education Association, the average salary for classroom teachers nationwide is $56,383, compared with $48,289 in Tennessee.
Neither Haslam nor Huffman specified how much money will be spent to increase the salaries, except that the administration plans to direct more resources to local districts.
“This means that at the start of every budget cycle this starts as a budget priority for the administration,” Huffman said.
The announcement comes on the heels of a petition signed last month by more than 50 Tennessee school superintendents raising concerns about Huffman's leadership at the department.
The petition said his office “has no interest in a dialogue” with local school leaders, and added that superintendents' efforts to improve their schools are being thwarted by low teacher morale because of policy changes on the state level.
Teachers’ groups have criticized Huffman for calling for changes to the minimum teacher salary schedule for new teachers, reducing steps in salary increases from 21 to four and eliminating incentives for doctorate degrees and post-master's training. They also oppose his proposal for tying teacher licenses to student test data.
Gera Summerford, president of the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, said she's pleased with the state's effort but is still concerned some teachers' salaries may be unfairly affected by the proposed policy changes.
“It needs to be something that all educators have the opportunity to achieve,” she said.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh agreed.
“Basing teacher pay on test scores ... is going to further strain the system, lower morale and detract from the progress we have made in Tennessee,” the Ripley Democrat said in a news release.
Huffman acknowledged Tennessee teachers may not be getting the respect they deserve.
“They deserve our gratitude for their work and their commitment,” he said. “But I also know that too often we tend to use gratitude as a substitute for compensation, and gratitude only goes so far.”