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Tennessee Governor Proposes to Grow Teacher Salaries

From guest blogger Alyssa Morones

The average salary for a Tennessee teacher is among the nation's fifteen lowest. While it may be a while before the state is anywhere near its top-ranking competitors, Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican, said yesterday that he plans to grow teacher salaries at a faster rate than any other state by the time he leaves office.

The announcement comes in the wake of criticism of Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, following changes to the Tennessee teacher salary schedule and board-approved recommendation to tie teacher licenses to student test data. Fifty Tennessee school superintendents signed a petition last month questioning Huffman's leadership.

Huffman, though, will play a role in implementing Haslam's plan. He said that his administration will review state-by-state salary data each year to make sure that Tennessee's teacher salaries remain competitive. Haslam said he'll direct more resources to districts to make this happen.

But both the governor and the commissioner were vague on the plan's specifics. Haslam didn't detail how the initiative would be reflected in his budget proposal next year, or propose a salary goal for the end of his term. And Huffman said it won't be implemented in next year's budget.

According to data from the National Education Association, Tennessee's average teacher salary is $48,289. Nationwide it is $56,383. Despite these comparatively low salaries, the NEA's December Rankings and Estimates report showed that teacher pay in the state rose 2.6 percent between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 school years. Nationally, salaries dropped by 0.1 percent.

During Thursday's news conference, Gov. Haslam said: "This is a long-term goal, and I think it is one of the most important one's we've taken on." Whether he can accomplish it is another matter: Haslam is facing re-election for a second four-year term next year.

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