Haslam: State needs to lead in teacher salary improvement

Gov. Bill Haslam’s newest priority is to ensure that Tennessee be the fastest improving state in the nation for teacher salaries by the time he leaves office, the governor announced Thursday.

Haslam was short on the specific goals he has for the next budget cycle and the aggregate growth he expects over his tenure, but he and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman pointed to committing $130 million in new, recurring funds for teacher salaries so far in Haslam’s term.

“Too often we tend to use gratitude as a substitute for compensation and gratitude only goes so far,” said Huffman.

The average salary for Tennessee teachers — which includes instructional staff — was $50,607 last school year, according to an estimate by the National Education Association’s “Rankings & Estimates” report released in December. A department spokeswoman said budget funds would be meant for instructional staff, which would include certified personnel like teachers and principals.

Classroom teachers alone averaged $48,289 in Tennessee last year, according to the report. The NEA’s next report is due out in December. Haslam told the Nashville Post state funds to support teacher raises would be intended for across-the-board raises, although local school boards would have discretion to apply those salaries as they see fit.

House Speaker Beth Harwell said she expects her caucus to be on board with this plan when they return in January for legislative session.