Gov. Bill Haslam wants Tennessee's teacher salaries to become the fastest improving in the nation, a long-term and still unfunded goal that complements a controversial new pay-plan overhaul that rewards educators who perform the best.
The Republican governor used an announcement recognizing the state's "Teacher of the Year" nominations Thursday to unveil an objective he says is one of the most important his administration has taken on: bumping teacher salaries in Tennessee, which currently sit at the bottom 10 nationwide, to the very top in growth.
Haslam, vowing no new tax increases would be needed but eliciting help form the sate legislature and local school districts, called achieving that by the time his second term would end in 2018 a "realistic" time frame.
"The last day in my office when I walk out, one of my commitments is to make Tennessee one of the leading states in the country when it comes to teacher salaries," said Haslam, flanked by Republican leaders from the legislature.
The average salary of Tennessee teachers currently sits at $50,000, according to state officials. It actually went up 4 percent over the past two years, they say, while the national average increased by only 1.8 percent.
Though the state's budget process kicks off in November, Haslam's administration didn't say how much the goal would cost to achieve, nor did he provide a budget estimate for even the first year.
"This is about setting this as a budget priority every year, not just getting a one-time bang," Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said.
The goal comes months after the state board of education voted to adopt a new pay plan for teachers that rewards performance over their number of degrees. By 2014-15, districts must adopt some form of "differentiated pay." This could include paying more for teachers who teach in high-need schools or paying more to those whose students earn the highest marks on standardized tests.
Huffman said he believes higher salaries go "hand-in-hand together" with the plan that goes into effect next year. "I think the combination of having more flexibility at the local level, along with more funding to do something with, really works well together."