TEA goal of professional pay for certified educators in reach

TEA’s relentless fight to raise the state minimum salary schedule paid off in May when the Tennessee State Board of Education passed a 5.3% increase for licensed personnel’s minimum salary to $40,000. 


“This is another historic increase, but our fight is far from over,” said TEA President Tanya Coats. “With record staffing shortages across all Tennessee school districts and the resulting challenges in the classroom, we are taking on more jobs with more students. Yet pay is still below the national average. We are professionals. Most educators have more than two degrees, but they are forced to take on additional jobs just to provide for their family’s basic needs.”


While the minimum salary is for teachers with a bachelor’s degree and no experience, most Tennessee teaching positions are well above the state minimum. However, increasing the minimum does benefit all teachers by putting upward salary pressure on the entire system.


“A rising tide lifts all boats,” said Coats.


The jump of $4,000 in two years to the state minimum triggered an increase to steps in most school districts across the state. 


“With the cost of everything going up, rural teachers will see large raises, and the upward pressure of an increase in state schedule positively impacts all teachers,” Coats said. 


TEA has been fighting for years to add new recurring state money to get raises into teacher paychecks, and this approach is paying off. TEA defeated attempts to repeal the salary schedule in years past and fought to improve the bottom line of the state minimum.


“Just one year ago, we had to convince some state bureaucrats and lawmakers that the state has more than $1 billion to commit to new school funding,” Coats said. “During the unveiling of the new state school funding formula this year, the state did commit $1 billion in new school funding as part of a total overhaul of how state and local dollars are budgeted for education.”


That plan includes $125 million for teacher raises in 2023 and a goal to increase the state minimum salary to $45,000 by 2026. To stay on track with the stated 2026 goal, teachers should receive on average a yearly 4% raise.

With progress on salaries, the next big fight is on health insurance. TEA has demanded educators get the same overall benefits as state employees. During the last legislative session, providing this level of insurance to educators was estimated to cost $373 million.


“What we’ve explained to the administration and lawmakers is that a large sum comes out of educators’ pockets — our pockets — every year,” said Coats. “The state has the money to offer educators the same benefits state employees receive. It’s right and it’s time for Tennessee to make a commitment to educators on insurance. We know it is the best way to increase take-home pay immediately.”


TEA sponsored a bill last year that would have guaranteed, at minimum, an 80-20 employer-employee split for whatever insurance an educator would choose. This benefit is often better than what school systems currently provide.


TEA was also successful last year in passing a bill which automatically increases the state minimum salary schedule when the legislature passes new funding for teacher pay.


“We continue to add the tools to achieve our goal of professional pay in the coming years,” Coats said. “Working with the General Assembly, demanding to be respected as professionals and showing our commitment to our students, communities and schools, is the only way we can accomplish our goals.”