(The Center Square) – A bill to both raise the minimum Tennessee teacher salary to $50,000 by 2026-27 and eliminate the option of districts collecting Tennessee Education Association dues from paychecks passed the Senate Education Committee this week.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, but was termed an administration bill supported by Gov. Bill Lee. When asked why the two topics were combined by both a Republican and Democratic member of the committee, representatives from the Tennessee Department of Education said that was the choice of Lee.
TEA Chief Lobbyist Jim Wrye spoke on the Senate Bill 281, saying he believed the minimum salary portion of the bill is key for rural school districts, where salaries tend to lag, but he felt “singling out teachers is grossly unfair” in terms of labor dues.
Wrye said police, firefighters and other state employees are allowed to deduct labor union dues from paychecks.
Sen. Bill Powers, R-Clarksville, said he believed teacher dues are between $400 and $500 annually for the 46,000 teacher who use their local districts for payroll deductions, which the state has done for 36 years.
But he said TEA donated $529,000 to candidates in the 2018 election cycle and had assets of $11.5 million with $9.2 million in revenue and $10.9 million in expenses that year. Meanwhile, state troopers pay less than $100 in dues.
“That, my friends, is a PAC,” Powers said. “And we are collecting money that these people are taking and using to endorse their candidates.”
The pay increase portion of the bill would increase the minimum teacher pay incrementally from the current $40,000 to $50,000 over the stretch by bumping the minimum to $42,000 in the fall, $44,500 the next year and so on.
Those minimums would impact the entire minimum pay scale for veteran teachers as well.
A fiscal note on the bill said it would require $125 million of the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement funding formula to be restricted for the pay increase starting next fiscal year and would result in a $1.6 million increase in combined local expenses starting in financial 2026-27.
Sen. Raumesh Akbari, D-Memphis, was the lone no vote in committee.
“I’m not going to vote for something that’s good on one end and bad on the other,” Akbari said.
The bill will next head to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee.
Lee tweeted about the bill Friday morning, and its importance.
“Teaching is more than just a career – it’s a calling,” Lee wrote. “This year, I’m proposing the largest salary increase for teachers in Tennessee history, along with strong measures to ensure teacher raises actually reach their paycheck.”