Editorial: Haslam often talks teacher pay, but cuts raises in recent budget

Apr. 02, 2014 @ 11:46 PM

Governor Bill Haslam has been a leader behind a tough move across Tennessee to set higher academic standards in our classrooms for students, teachers and administrators.

Through his first few years, students in the state seem to have flourished with the increased vigor brought on by a more stringent curriculum. Tennessee has ascended the rolls of national educational rankings as a result.

The grunts behind that work, however, have been Tennessee’s teachers, and it seems, repeatedly, that they’re getting the short end of the stick under the governor.

On Tuesday he announced a proposed budget amendment to make up for the $150 million tax shortfall in the state. One of the big changes of the budget is to suspend raises for state employees, and, of course, Tennessee teachers.

This comes just over two months after Haslam’s State of the State Address directly tackled the issue of teacher pay and the link to recruiting bright educators.

“To help us attract and maintain the best and brightest employees throughout all levels of state government, we have to look at compensation,” Haslam said. “This year we are including an across the board pay raise for state employees of one and a half percent.

“We’ve also followed through on our commitment to conduct a salary survey to identify positions throughout state government where we’re not competing with the private sector. We’re including a total of nearly $60 million to address necessary salary adjustments resulting from the salary study.”

Just six months ago, at the state’s teacher of the year awards, Haslam was even more firm in the notion that teachers, facing higher standards, deserved more.

“We’re asking our students to be the fastest improving in the nation in education achievement, and the data is showing that we’re making real progress,” Haslam said. “Teachers are the single most important factor in student achievement, and higher accountability for teachers and proven results should be met with better rewards.”

The governor defended the reversal Tuesday, telling reporters, “The goal hasn’t gone away. But we have to deal with the realities we have.”

It’s understandable that when there’s a shortfall, cuts have to be made. The question is: Why — given Haslam’s insistence that making teacher pay in Tennessee commensurate with educators in other states is so important — would he make teacher raises among the first things cut?

Teachers have already suffered through a tough time with the implementation of Common Core standards, coupled with cuts to tenure and the threat of students’ test results playing into their future employment. 

Being a teacher isn’t an easy job. Attracting the best and brightest is tough when it seems there’s only bad news for their profession.