The 2020 primaries may be ten months away, but that hasn’t stopped over a dozen Democratic candidates from launching early campaigns for a chance to take on Donald Trump. Among the heavyweights so far is Kamala Harris, a California Senator whose announcement brought thousands together in Oakland to support her bid to become the first African-American woman president.
Her first major policy proposal? Pledging to raise teachers’ salaries.
CNN reports that Harris’ plan would provide the average teacher with a $13,500 raise, which amounts to a 23% increase on average. To make her plan work, Harris says that the federal government must provide the first 10% of funding, with states contributing the remaining amount of the raises.
What would encourage states to do such a thing? According to Harris, for every dollar that a state contributes toward subsidizing teacher pay raises, the federal government would invest $3 back into the state.
It’s a bold plan for sure, but critics have been quick to question its practicality.
Education policy scholar Frederick Hess writes in Forbes that “even if Harris got every dollar she’s asked for—which would constitute an eye-popping, immediate jump of 50% in Uncle Sam’s annual K-12 spending—the salary bump would only be about five to 10% (depending on who gets defined as a “teacher,” how benefit costs are handled, and more).” In other words, Harris’ $315 billion proposal may not pack as much punch as teachers are expecting.
Part of this is due to states’ massive unfunded pension liabilities that have made headlines over the past couple of years. As former Obama official Chad Aldeman explains, 70% of all state and district pension contributions go toward unpaid past debts. Without those responsibilities, Aldeman estimates that teacher salaries could already increase by roughly $6,500. Harris’ proposed plan does not account for pension liabilities.
Critics have also been skeptical of the proposal’s one-size-fits-all approach, arguing that a base pay raise for all teachers would not have the same impact on student achievement as targeted raises would.
“We would probably be better off if whatever pot of money is being allocated to raising teacher salaries tended to disproportionately go to schools serving disadvantaged kids, the front end of pay in a teacher’s career, and to shortage subjects,” says Dan Goldhaber, a University of Washington professor who studies teacher quality. While Harris’ plan references “additional targeted investments” in high-needs schools, no concrete details have been released at this point.
Still, the California Democrat’s proposal comes at a time when teachers across the country are diving headfirst into activism, holding protests and “sickouts” to call for higher salaries, fully-funded pensions, and better working conditions.
Regardless of policy specifics, the need for higher teacher salaries has been a long-storied debate in education. Nationwide, teachers make 11 percent less than similarly-educated professionals. Perhaps Harris’ heart is in the right place, even if her proposal leaves a lot to be desired.
What do you think?
Photo from Flickr, CC-Licensed.