Tennessee's "Broke Dad" Mentality
From DCS to teacher pay to third grade, Tennessee is acting like it is bankrupt
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As I read through Tennessee’s latest revenue update, I can’t help but think that state leaders are acting like a “broke dad” when all the evidence points to the opposite.
So far this year, Tennessee has taken in $1.2 billion MORE than was estimated.
On the low end, it seems likely that the state will have a $2 billion surplus THIS YEAR when all is said and done.
This keeps happening.
Since about 2015, the state has consistently had significant revenue surpluses that well outpace budgeted projections.
Yet tonight, some Tennessee children will be sleeping on the floors of DCS office buildings because the state can’t handle its “crisis” in children’s services.
Let me put it this way: You’re a parent. You have a paid for house, two paid for cars, and enough money in the bank that you can NOT work for a year and still cover basic expenses.
Is that the time when you tell your family that you will all be moving into a car and sleeping in the parking lot of a nearby park?
That’s what Tennessee is doing.
Sure, there are extenuating circumstances where families do what they must to survive. We can talk about the economic realities of those circumstances, the causes, etc.
The point: Tennessee is the very rich dad with plenty of money in savings accounts that is making the family forego comfort and even basic needs so he can save a few more pennies.
Solving problems is difficult. It might mean giving up some of those comforts - or, at least, the comfort of knowing there’s a ton of money in the bank. You know, in case of a real emergency.
It’s no emergency that the family is sleeping in the car tonight. Or the next night.
Even though for a small fraction of what is in savings the “broke dad” could afford a hotel room.
Never mind the fact that the house is paid for - this will be a learning experience for the kids.
No parent would do this.
But it is exactly what Bill Lee and his Administration find acceptable for Tennessee.
On a related note, Lee says he wants to make Tennessee’s minimum teacher salary $50,000 by the 2026-27 school year.
Meanwhile, his proposed budget only raises teacher pay by about 4% this year.
Why not go all the way to $50,000 THIS YEAR?
Broke dad thinking, I say.
We have to “wait” and see what happens.
But we’ve been waiting and seeing for years now.
We’ve been seeing HUGE revenue surpluses and paltry excuses for budget increases.
It’s as if Tennessee was born to be poor and broke and can’t escape.
Let’s be fair: A bipartisan group of state leaders helped create this new reality.
Up until 2010, Democrats had full control of the General Assembly.
From 2003-2011, Tennessee had a Democratic governor.
The point: Both parties adopted a pretty conservative stance when it came to budgeting. The prevailing state leaders - Democrat AND Republican - exercised extreme caution before spending a dollar.
Now, we have years of surplus revenue.
We also have pressing crises.
We even have an upcoming third grade retention law that could wreak havoc with our state’s families and school districts.
Will Tennessee continue to act like a “broke dad” saving every single dime and forcing the family to sleep in the car? Or, will some policymakers break the cycle and embrace the reality that Tennessee has not only some very real problems but also the means to address them responsibly?
Here is an article writte by a friend of mine:
Tennessee Teacher Pay Raises
1. Governor Lee noted in his 2020 State of the State Address, “My budget sets aside $117 million additional dollars for teachers, an amount equal to a 4% increase to the state’s contribution to the teacher’s salaries.”
Teachers in 72.5% of Tennessee’s school districts received a reduction in their retirement income.*
2. Governor Lee stated in his 2023 State of the State Address, “... We are proposing legislation, that, if it passes, will increase the minimum teacher pay, by the time I leave office, to $50,000.”, “...includes $125 million for teacher pay raises.”
The $125 million dollar teacher pay raises does not mean all teachers will receive a pay raise.
After 15 years of service there are no provisions in the Minimum Salary Schedule for teachers with 20 years, 25 years, or 30 years of experience to receive additional compensation. Experienced teachers arenot recognized or valued.
It is mathematically impossible for the Governor to achieve his goal when the annual funding, at a
minimum, is short $101,383,106.95 per year.
The Governor has 3 budget years to achieve his goal. Raising the state minimum salary to
$50,000 requires a $3,333.33 increase per teacher per budget year. 67,915** teachers x
$3,333.33 raise per teacher equals $226,383,106.95.
$125,000,000 - $226,383,106.95 = (-$101,383,106.95)
The Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) must be transparent, communicate how the numbers are calculated, require accountability of how the money is spent at the local level, provide an analysis when teachers do not receive a pay raise, and communicate this information on the TDOE website.
Transparency, accountability, and truth-in-advertising are paramount in building trust with Tennessee’s teachers and a critical component in attracting teachers and retaining experienced teachers.
Michael Gonzales, Ed. D.
Professional Educator of Tennessee
*TDOE Teacher Pay Raise Distribution by County 2020-2021 – obtained through the Open Records Act
**TDOE 2021-2022 Report Card
50K is not nearly enough. Bernie Sanders is right. He has proposed the Pay Teachers Act which would guarantee US public school teachers annual salaries of at least 60K. Lee's proposal of $125 million is not enough to fund all Tennessee public school teachers a minimum salary of 50K, even 3 years from now. We all know by now that districts such as MNPS can't pay for the number of teachers it needs with state money, and so we hire more with local money. Why can't Lee be honest with us? Not every teacher will get a pay raise with a 50K minimum. We need nothing less than a 20% raise to make it right. As long as we are underpaid, we will continue to leave the profession.