On Tuesday, U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris unveiled her intention to deliver the largest federal investment in teacher pay in the history of the United States.
In declaring a crisis in teacher pay in America, Harris noted that public school teachers are paid 11 percent less than similar professionals with college degrees, and expressed her commitment to closing the pay gap entirely within her first term.
Teachers are underpaid in general, but for black teachers and students, the prognosis is even grimmer.
Outside of black teachers earning an average of $2,700 less per year than their white counterparts, turnover for teachers who serve schools with a high concentration of students of color is an astonishing 70 percent higher.
Additionally, despite the fact that black teachers boost reading and math achievement, as well as graduation rates while inspiring students of color to pursue college, their meager wages directly influence their diminished presence in schools. And we won’t even get started on the racial inequities regarding student loans or school funding.
It’s a damn mess, but a mess that Harris appears ready and willing to confront at any cost. As evidenced by her proposal on Tuesday to spend a jaw-dropping $315 billion over the course of 10 years, Harris aims to increase wages and improve recruitment, training, and professional development of teachers throughout the country—but particularly those found at HBCUs.
Here’s what it will look like:
The Department of Education will work with state education agencies to set a base salary goal for beginning teachers in every state. States and school districts will increase every teacher’s salary until, at a minimum, that goal is met. Additionally, they’ll be required to use funds to increase teacher pay, not replace existing education funding.
A raise of $13,500 is the equivalent to a 23 percent pay increase for the average teacher.
America’s highest-need schools, which disproportionately serve students of color, will receive funding to increase teacher pay even further.
The federal government will make an additional targeted investment beyond just “closing the gap” to pay teachers in America’s highest-need schools—which are disproportionately occupied by both teachers and students of color—more than other comparable professionals in their state.
As a point of reference, nearly 45 percent of Black and Latinx students in America attend schools that will receive this supplementary investment.
The federal government will support programs dedicated to teacher recruitment, training, and professional development—particularly at HBCUs.
The federal government will make a multi-billion dollar investment in programs that help elevate the teaching profession and support principals and other school leaders. This includes high-quality teacher and principal residencies, early-career induction programs that pair new teachers with mentors and master teachers, career ladder models that allow for advancement opportunities for teacher leaders, and “Grow Your Own” programs that help increase teacher diversity.
Half of this funding will be dedicated to high-quality programs at HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs). Nearly 40 percent of all black teachers and 50 percent of all Hispanic teachers graduate from MSIs.
The federal government will provide a base level of funding to every state in the country, and then incentivize states to do their part to take full advantage of the plan.
An immediate federal investment in every state will provide the first 10 percent of funding needed to close the teacher pay gap. Then, the federal government will incentivize state partnership: for every $1 a state contributes to increasing pay, the federal government will invest $3 until the teacher pay gap is entirely closed by the end of President Harris’ first term. To receive funding, states will be required to maintain their share of the investment over time.
The $315 billion plan—which will be funded by strengthening the estate tax and cracking down on loopholes exploited by the affluent—has been praised by the likes by education policy expert Catherine Brown, National Education Association President Eskelsen Garcia, former U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
“Higher salaries is a critical strategy to modernize and elevate the teaching profession,” Brown tweeted. “Thank you for elevating this issue @KamalaHarris!”
In an op-ed released Tuesday for the Washington Post, Harris deemed the teacher pay crisis “a national failure that demands a bold, national response.”
“When President Lyndon B. Johnson made a major investment in education in 1965, he told the country that it was to ‘bridge the gap between helplessness and hope.’ Fifty-four years later, this gap remains,” she added. “But I am determined to keep building that bridge as president.”
And thankfully, to the benefit of black and brown communities.