Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris on Tuesday proposed a plan to dramatically increase public-school teachers’ salaries, marking her first major entry into public policy planning as the 2020 race begins to heat up.
Under Harris’s plan, the average teacher in the U.S. would receive a $13,500 pay raise over four years – for a hefty price tag of $315 billion in federal funding. It would be paid for by making unspecified changes to the estate tax (which is levied on assets, like real estate and cash, when a person dies).
“Our country’s success is a product of the two groups who raise our children: parents and teachers. We are not paying our teachers their value,” Harris said in a statement.
Under the California senator’s plan, an 11 percent gap between teachers and comparable professionals would be eliminated in the first year by an immediate federal investment that would provide 10 percent of the funding needed to close the pay gap.
States would then receive incentives for closing the pay gap -- for every $1 a state invests in raising teacher pay, the federal government will provide $3 to fully close the gap within four years, according to Harris’s campaign.
The Department of Education would then work with state education agencies to create a base salary goal for new teachers in every state. States and school districts will increase every teacher’s salary until they meet the goal.
According to a Ipsos/USA Today poll, there’s broad support for local public school teachers, with 59 percent of Americans who do not believe that school teachers are compensated fairly. Meanwhile, about two-thirds of respondents said they support a teacher’s right to strike, following a wave of major teacher strikes across the country in Los Angeles, Denver and Virginia, as well as in traditionally red strongholds like West Virginia and Indiana.
A study by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think-tank, found that teacher pay has sharply eroded since the mid 1990s; in fact, adjusted for inflation, public-school teachers’ average weekly salaries decreased $27 from 1996 to 2017, from $1,164 to $1,137. Conversely, weekly wages of other college graduates rose from $1,339 to $1,476 over the same period.
A large number of teachers applauded the proposal.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers called the plan “incredible.”
“Harris is putting attracting & retaining teachers front and center. This would make a huge difference in the lives of educators, our students and our communities,” he wrote in a tweet.