Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris is calling for what she describes as “the largest federal investment in teacher pay in U.S. history,” proposing to spend $315 billion over 10 years to boost teacher pay by an average of $13,500 over four years.
Harris’ proposal comes as walkouts and teacher strikes protesting low pay and education funding have brought attention to the issue across the country, from West Virginia to Oklahoma to Oakland.
Harris says that U.S. teachers earn about 11 percent a year less in salary and benefits than other college graduates, citing a 2018 study by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute. “The ‘pay gap’ between what teachers earn and what people with similar educations earn is creating disastrous consequences,” she writes in a Washington Post op-ed. “Teachers are leaving their dream jobs because they can’t make ends meet. Bright college graduates are not choosing this path of service because they need to pay their student loans. Rural schools are unable to fill teaching vacancies while urban schools struggle with high rates of turnover.”
Some key details of her proposal:
- The Department of Education would work with states to set a base salary goal for new teachers in every state, factoring in average salaries for similarly educated professionals in each state. That starting pay level would rise for other teachers based on experience and qualifications.
- The federal government would cover the first 10 percent of the total pay increase for teachers for the first year.
- The federal government would then contribute $3 for every $1 a state invests in teacher pay. To get the funding, states would be required to maintain their investment over time and increase pay to cover inflation.
- Additional money would go to high-need schools to prevent teacher turnover.
- The plan also calls for a “multibillion-dollar investment” in teacher recruitment, training and development, with half of that funding dedicated to p programs at historically black colleges and universities and other institutions that serve minorities.
- The plan would be paid for by unspecified changes to the estate tax — “increasing the estate tax for the top 1 percent of taxpayers and cracking down on loopholes that let the very wealthiest, with estates worth multiple millions or billions of dollars, avoid paying their fair share,” Harris says.
Why it matters: The Harris campaign says that eliminating the teacher pay gap and closing the achievement gaps between the U.S. educational system and those in other countries could add $2.3 trillion to the U.S. economy, citing a report from management consultants McKinsey & Company.
As for the politics of the plan, The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin notes that “more than 50 million Americans live in a household with a public school student and/or teacher. That’s a very big pool of voters who would stand to benefit from Harris’s proposal, whatever you think of the merits.”
Can it work? While the plan would contrast sharply with the GOP education agenda, both at the federal and state levels, Vox’s Dylan Scott notes that, “it would also require the states themselves to buy in for the plan to succeed — and states aren’t always willing to sign up for an initiative that requires them to spend money, even with a generous match from the federal government.”
The bottom line: Vox’s Scott adds that Harris’s plan suggests a new path for Democrats moving away from charter schools and the idea of linking teacher pay to standardized test scores — one that “aligns with the party’s leftward drift on health care, climate change, and other issues: investing substantially more public money to fix problems.”