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Tennessee 'continues race to the bottom in education funding,' TEA reports

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam demands more from teachers but refuses annual compensation increase.
By U.S. Department of Agriculture (20120226-OSEC-LSC-0454) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Yesterday, TEA President Gera Summerford reported that Governor Bill Haslam and Tennessee officials "continue the state’s race to the bottom in education funding" after Haslam announced that the state budget will not fund teachers’ scheduled pay raises for the 2014-2015 school year. Summerford explained, “Tennessee educators are deeply committed to providing a quality education for all students, but at the end of the day they should also be able to provide for their own families.”

Teachers across the state are struggling with both providing resources for their families at home and balancing their time with their families with time for career obligations. Clinton High School Reading Specialist and English teacher Terri Gilbert shared with Examiner.com insight from her own experiences, saying, “Teachers are facing enormous changes in how and what we teach and how we are evaluated. We are so busy trying to learn all the new pieces, that we barely have time to figure out what we're doing the next day.”

Knoxville News Sentinel Nashville bureau chief Tom Humphrey reported November 2013 comments from Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam and Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman on their administrations goals of making Tennessee the “fastest improving state in the nation by 2015” and Tennessee schools’ growth results on the NAEP assessment. Huffman recognized the labors of teachers and students, stating, “We’ve asked a lot of our teachers and students, and they have delivered; they deserve the thanks for this progress. Dramatically improving results for kids is hard work, but this is what hard work can do.” Haslam stated, “As a state we’ve come together to make education a top priority.”

All stakeholders in public education seem to be in agreement on at least one message: Tennessee teachers are working hard to promote student growth and success.

However, although teachers are instrumental in supporting student growth on the front lines of education every day, many educators like TEA President and Sevier County math teacher Gera Summerford and Anderson County Reading Specialist and English teacher Terri Gilbert believe that the state demands on educators are not matched with adequate compensation, nor are public schools receiving adequate funding to meet the needs of state level curriculum and assessment demands. Summerford reported NEA findings that Tennessee “tops only Nevada, North, Carolina, Oklahaoma, and Utah” in “per student investment,” and continued, “It seems the goal is to make sure Tennessee is dead last in public education investment.”

“Many, many teachers are feeling overwhelmed, stressed, unappreciated, and yes, underpaid. I personally would just like to work 50 hours a week instead of 60 plus,” reported Gilbert.