Teacher Pay Raise Passes House

The teacher pay raise, HB 504, passed the House of Representatives today on a vote of 86 to 26. See that vote here. Please join me in thanking the House of Representatives for this effort to move teacher compensation to a more competitive level. The bill now will go to the Senate where its fate is uncertain. Click here for a description of the raise called for in the bill. 

As promised, I met with Speaker Gunn about his reasons for including in the bill a requirement that veteran teachers meet benchmarks in order to qualify for the pay increase. Here’s what I learned…

The speaker told me that his goal was for the House to pass a bill that would survive the Senate, be signed by the governor, and get more money into teachers’ pockets. He believes that there are two things that would trip that up and keep teachers from getting any pay raise at all this year:

  1. Not including some sort of benchmark (both the lieutenant governor and the governor are on record as saying that they do not support an across-the-board raise; both have said they support a pay raise based on merit)
  2. Passing a raise that costs the state more than it can afford (last year, the House passed a $5,000 pay raise; it was never brought up in the Senate and died on the calendar)

To the issue of veteran teachers being required to meet benchmarks while less experienced teachers are not, Speaker Gunn explained that teachers with less than five years of experience were exempted from the benchmarks in order to move the starting salary closer to the southeastern average. The speaker’s intention is to attract more of our best and brightest students into the field of teaching and to help stop the drain of new teachers to states with higher salaries. The existing teacher salary schedule lumps all teachers with less than five years of experience into one group. Speaker Gunn also indicated that he is open to working on the benchmarks and is open to suggestions from teachers.

During today’s debate on the pay raise bill, Rep. Linda Whittington offered an amendment to increase the amount of the pay raise to $5,000 and remove the benchmarks. Rep. Whittington spoke eloquently about the need to compensate teachers better. She also acknowledged that the cost of the raise was more than the amount of recurring revenue that the state has available. One-time reserve funds would be required this year to cover the cost of the raise. The lieutenant governor has said repeatedly that he will not support spending one-time money on recurring expenditures.

Rep. Herb Frierson urged the House to be pragmatic in a “highly charged political environment” to avoid killing the pay raise altogether. He asked that they not jeopardize the pay raise by passing an amendment that would create opposition in the Senate. The majority agreed with Frierson that they would rather not gamble and lose the raise altogether; Rep. Whittington’s amendment failed on a vote of 52 to 68. 

Throughout the debate it was clear that the House overwhelmingly supports a significant increase in teacher pay; the debate was over how that would best be accomplished.

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