GOP kills two teacher pay proposals — without debate

Left to right: Sen. Heidi Campbell, Sen. Jeff Yarbro, Rep. John Ray Clemmons

NASHVILLE — Without debate, Republicans dismissed two education bills that would have boosted teacher pay in a committee meeting Wednesday.

Senate Bill 7014, sponsored by Sen. Heidi Campbell (D-Nashville) and Rep. John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville), proposed a pandemic pay bonus for every teacher in Tennessee equal to 2 percent of their annual salary.

A state organization representing educators estimated that Tennessee’s certified educators worked an average of 13 additional hours per week to maintain daily instruction during the fall. Additionally, the group found that COVID-19 rates among educators far outpaces transmission rates in the communities where they work.

“We are constantly intending, as a legislative body, to give our teachers raises and yet somehow, that never really happens,” Sen. Campbell said. “This bill is about teachers who we are asking to risk their health and the health of their families.”

Not a single Republican member on the Senate Education Committee motioned to hear the bill, a legislative committee procedure that kills the legislation without debate.

Senate Bill 7011, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville) and Rep. Clemmons, proposed a 4 percent increase to the state’s share of teacher salaries effectively immediately.

“Senate Bill 7011 is about trying to meet the obligations we have to our teachers,” Sen. Yarbro said. “At the outset of the pandemic, the state budget pulled back on a planned 4 percent increase that would have gone to teacher pay raises. I don’t think the legislature would have done that had we known that the state would be running a healthy budget surplus. This bill restores that pay increase that was planned last year.”

State revenue officials have reported more than $1 billion in surplus tax revenues.

For a second time, the Republican majority on the Senate Education Committee dismissed the salary legislation without debate.

Rep. Clemmons, the sponsor of both bills in the House, said he was “disappointed.”

“As a MNPS parent, I understand firsthand the many challenges presented by COVID-19 to our students and educators,” said Rep. Clemmons, the House sponsor. “This special session presented us with a tremendous opportunity to ensure that adversely impacted children receive the assistance and treatment they need and provide our teachers with the pay increase they were promised and deserve. Again, I am disappointed that Gov. Lee and the supermajority do not share our priorities and values.”

After eliminating a 4% teacher pay raise from last year’s budget, Gov. Bill Lee is now proposing what amounts to a 1% increase of the state’s share of salary funding. Lee says he will push for another pay increase in next year’s budget.

With a funding formula that doesn’t account for all teaching positions statewide and the rising cost of health insurance, many teachers may not see much, if any, pay difference without additional local funding increases.

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