Governor Lee Proposes Increasing Teacher Starting Salaries While Ending Payroll Deductions for Union Dues

New legislation backed by Governor Bill Lee is going through the Tennessee General Assembly that if passed, would raise teacher salaries and end to payroll dues deductions for labor organizations.

An amendment released Monday and attached to SB 0281 will be heard at this week’s Senate Education Committee meeting.

The amendment calls for an increase to starting teacher salaries, with this year’s salary being set at $42K. Currently, the minimum salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and zero years of classroom experience is $40K annually. In 2021, it was $38K. Per the legislation, salaries would rise annually by roughly $4,500 annually until reaching $50K in the 2026/2027 school year.

The proposed increase in salaries comes with a caveat, local school districts will no longer be able to make payroll deductions for labor union dues.

Senate Education Chairman Jon Lundberg (R – Bristol) told The Tennessee Star via a phone call, “This is just another step towards doing what’s right for kids, and balancing things out across the state. Instead of picking and choosing who is eligible to make deductions this says nobody can.”

On Tuesday, the legislation was introduced to the House K-12 Subcommittee. Testifying in opposition was Tennessee Education Association (TEA) representative Jim Wrye. While praising the Governor for the proposed salary increases, he lamented the linking of raises to union dues. He confirmed that under the current circumstances, participation is fully permissive for both the teacher and the district to participate. Despite telling legislators he was “[p]roud to work in a right-to-work state,” Wrye asked that they separate pay and union dues and leave the current payroll deduction system in place.

Despite pushback from Representative Sam McKenzie (D-Knoxville), Brent Easley, serving as a representative of Lee maintained that the governor believed that linking teacher raises and payroll deductions was “good policy.” It was a position he would not waiver from this explanation, despite McKenzie’s efforts to extrapolate more information.

The bill was brought to a question for a voice vote and passed out of committee.

When asked by The Star for a response, Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) Chief Operations Officer Aubrey Shores responded by email: “We don’t anticipate an end to payroll deduction for association dues having much impact on our organization. We have developed a robust internal system for automatic dues deductions at the individual level, in part as a result of historically being blocked from accessing payroll deductions by districts for many years. We will be proactive in assisting all of our members who currently pay their dues with payroll deduction getting transferred over to a different payment method.”

Teacher salaries have been a focus of Lee throughout his tenure. In his February State of the State speech, Lee promised to unveil legislation to raise starting salaries and to ask for an additional $125 million more towards salaries. At the time, State Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn told Chalkbeat, “This is a game changer in terms of how we talk about the profession, how we compensate the profession.”

In April 2022, the National Education Association (NEA) released a study ranking Tennessee at 42 for average teacher salaries. The ranking was identical to the previous year, despite a 1.95% increase between the two school years.

The General Assembly has been attempting to raise salaries for years, but before this year, legislators have been frustrated because, due to the structure of the state’s school funding model, money designated for teacher raises didn’t always reach teachers’ bank accounts.  The state’s new funding model, Tennesseans Investing in Student Achievement (TISA), allows legislators to directly fund teacher salaries. Under the new formula, monies designated for teacher salaries must go to teachers, not other initiatives or support staff.

According to Shores, “This will benefit teachers as a whole with more transparency. With payroll becoming increasingly digital in the past decade most people never see their paystubs. Many teachers we speak to have no idea how much their dues are when they’ve been automatically deducted from their checks for years.”

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TC Weber is a reporter at The Tennessee Star and The Star News Network. He also writes the blog Dad Gone Wild. Follow TC on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected]. He’s the proud parent of two public school children and the spouse of a public school teacher.
Background Photo “Classroom” by Wokandapix.


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3 Thoughts to “Governor Lee Proposes Increasing Teacher Starting Salaries While Ending Payroll Deductions for Union Dues”

  1. Joe Blow

    Lee is forever forcing more costs in public education. My county’s teachers (and any other lingerer-on with a certificate) got EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS in unearned pay raises just last year. Besides the local school boards are supposedly in control of local issues such as teacher pay. Therefore I demand that Lee and Schwinn butt out of local school issues just like the Department of Indoctrination, I mean Education, should be eliminated in order to keep the feds from telling the states what to do with their public schools.

    Lee needs to shut his yap and do something constructive that will not cause our taxes to be raised….. again.

  2. Ms Independent

    From what I’ve seen coming out of public school teachers, no raise should be given until indoctrination is stopped!

  3. Randy

    Aubrey Shores should be introduced to the State Attorneys General. Extortion is a crime.”a robust internal system…” sounds like an organization that has ways of ensuring you pay or else. Tennessee could reduce the cost of education simply by deregulation and the elimination of federal grant funding. Academic administration and useless legislation accounts for the overwhelming majority of education spending. none of it having to do with teaching..