Under the Dome

Senate budget: Younger teachers to see bigger raises as TAs face cuts

The Senate budget proposal would raise teacher pay and hire more teachers statewide to reduce class sizes in early grades, while cutting the equivalent of 13,881 teacher assistant positions over the next two years.

The proposal, unveiled Monday, would lift teacher pay an average of 4 percent, aiming the largest increases to early career teachers. Starting pay would rise from $33,000 to $35,000.

Teacher assistants are focused on early grades, but Senate leaders say reducing classes would be the best way to help improve education. Class size in grades 1 through 3 would be brought down to 15 per teacher by 2017; in kindergarten, class size would be trimmed to 17 in two years’ time.

Republican Sen. Chad Barefoot said the total new spending in public schools would be $453 million in the next two years.

“What we’re doing is we’re drastically reducing classroom sizes in grades K-3 and increasing teacher salaries, and also increasing the allotments we have for textbooks and digital resources in the classroom,” he said.

The Senate plan would add 2,000 teachers in the coming year and another 4,700 in the year after that.

Under the Senate plan, increases for teachers are as follows:

▪ Teachers with up to four years’ experience would be paid $35,000, up 6 percent.

▪ Teachers with five to nine years’ experience would be paid $38,250, up 4.8 percent.

▪ Teachers with 10 to 14 years’ experience would be paid $41,250, a 3.1 percent increase.

▪ Teachers with 15 to 19 years’ experience would be paid $44,250, a 1.7 percent increase.

▪ Teachers with 20 to 24 years’ experience would be paid $47,000, an increase of 1.1 percent.

▪ Teachers with 25 or more years of experience would be paid $50,000, which is no increase.

The Senate would fund a “step” increase, too, which means that teachers would advance a year on a system that determines pay. Under that system, the biggest raise under the Senate plan would go to a current teacher with four years experience (making $33,000 per year) who steps up to the fifth year at $38,250, an increase of 16 percent.

The Republican-led legislature has made large cuts in the number of teacher assistants in the past several years. The new proposal would reduce money for teacher assistants by $57.5 million next year and $166 million the year after. But the Senate would spend $80 million in 2015-16 on class size reduction and $193 million the following year.

The plan passed last month in the state House would not cut teacher assistants. The Senate plan will now become a negotiating point as lawmakers in the House and Senate look to resolve differences and adopt a budget for the fiscal year that begins on July 1.

The Senate budget would add $29 million next year in textbooks and digital resources for schools.

Finally, the budget would cut the state Department of Public Instruction by almost $5 million next year — almost five percent of the department’s budget.

The focus on early career pay raises is likely to raise the ire of veteran teachers who say the new structure devalues their experience.

“No budget is always perfect,” Barefoot said. “This one continues to move in the direction of putting the best teachers we can get in the classrooms in the grades that are most important for our students to be able to have an advantage in this life.”