How will districts afford to pay teachers the new state minimum?

Smaller counties will have challenge of finding more revenue if state money isn’t enough.
Local teachers are about to make a whole lot more money thanks to Tennessee lawmakers increasing the minimum pay, but how will districts afford it?
Published: May. 10, 2023 at 7:41 PM CDT
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WSMV) - Local teachers are about to make a whole lot more money thanks to Tennessee lawmakers increasing the minimum pay, but how will districts, especially smaller ones, afford it? Some districts told WSMV 4 that all options are on the table.

P.E. teacher Lynn Gragg has been at Cannon County Schools for more than 20 years.

“I love the kids,” Gragg said. “I love what I do.”

Some years, Gragg said the pay wasn’t enough.

“I was driving a bus to help increase my salary as a single parent and teaching,” Gragg said.

It’s why she, and many other teachers, are excited to hear about the state raising the minimum pay for teachers from $40,000 to $50,000 by the 2026-2027 school year.

“I think it is long overdue,” Gragg said.

Finding the funding for that salary will look different in each county.

“How do you do that in a rural area with limited fiscal capacity?” William Freddy Curtis, Director of Cannon County Schools, asked. “That is the challenge we have.”

It is an especially large challenge for Cannon County, which currently pays the state minimum. Curtis said they will have to rely heavily on state funding and possibly the county’s property tax to make up the difference.

“That is just very hard for us,” Curtis said.

In neighboring Rutherford County, they said they will reach the new state minimum at least a year ahead of schedule, using state funds and cutting unnecessary programs.

“We can have the best curriculum, the best buildings and the best students,” Rutherford County Director of Schools Jimmy Sullivan said. “If we don’t have the staff, then none of that really matters.”

Educators still make the most at Metro Nashville Public Schools. The minimum salary there will hit $50,000 starting in the fall under the mayor’s budget proposal.

WSMV 4 asked MNPS if there is concern over other districts catching up.

“In future budgets, we will continue advocating on behalf of our teachers to ensure they remain the highest paid in the state, and we can maintain that competitive advantage,” MNPS spokesperson Sean Braisted said.

In Cannon County, they lost close to 10% of teachers last year due to pay. It is something Gragg hopes this pay increase will help stop.

“We are losing family when they leave,” she said.

State lawmakers said they have invested a total of nearly $1 billion in teacher pay since the 2011-2012 school year.

Budget yearBudgeted amount
2007-08Baseline year
2011-12$36,300,000 (state share of 1.84% increase)
2012-13$58,795,000 (state share of 2.97% increase)
2013-14$35,800,000 (state share of 1.5% increase)