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Tennessee Teacher-Pay Plan Riles Union

The recent adoption of a new teacher-pay plan in Tennessee has spurred backlash from many union members, including some calls for the state's education commissioner to be fired, reports The Tennessean.

The new plan, which the board of education passed June 21, ends the system of giving annual raises based only on years of service and advanced degrees, reports the paper. Those two factors can continue to be used to differentiate pay but must be done so in conjunction with other factors. For instance, under the plan, school systems can now reward teachers "who teach in high-need schools or high-need subject areas and also reward for student achievement as demonstrated by state tests."

According to the Tennessean, teachers will still receive step raises for their sixth and 11th years "so teachers will have some safeguard." Previously teachers were guaranteed step raises each year.

The Tennessee Education Association fought hard against this plan, which leaves it up to individual districts to determine how teachers are paid within these criteria. More than 150 TEA members showed up to the board of education vote wearing red in protest. Meanwhile, two Facebook pages and a Change.org petition were created by anonymous authors to call for Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman's removal. TEA President Gera Summerford wrote in an op-ed on the organization's website:

The overall effect of this new plan is a first-ever lowering of state requirements for teacher salaries. Fortunately, state law protects current teachers from receiving a pay cut. As a result, while no teacher will see a cut in their current salary, they may also never see another raise, resulting in dramatically decreased lifetime earnings and a failure to realize minimal cost-of-living increases.

In his own op-ed in the Tennessean, Huffman argued that a system that does not reward high performance "makes little sense, and discourages top candidates from entering and staying in the teaching profession." Under the new system, he wrote, "Districts have more funding and more flexibility to design a salary schedule that actually differentiates pay and meets local needs."

Republican Governor Bill Haslam recently came out in support of Huffman, telling the Tennessean, "If you look at the states that are making the most progress in education, Tennessee is at the top of that list. ... Kevin gets a lot of credit for that."

This is not the first time Huffman and the union have traded punches since he took office more than two years ago. In October 2011, Huffman received much criticism for rushing the implementation of a new teacher-evaluation system that incorporated student-achievement measures. He later said he should have communicated directly with teachers about the new system.

It will be interesting to see where all of this goes, especially because the union claims it will continue to fight the plan and because Huffman consistently says he'll listen to feedback and make adjustments if a policy isn't working.

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