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Democrats: Boost Teacher Pay Instead of Giving Tax Cut to ‘Richest Americans’

By Alyson Klein — May 22, 2018 4 min read
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The Trump administration wants to slash federal education spending by 5 percent, but Democrats want to invest at least $100 billion over the next 10 years in K-12 schools, including to help bolster teachers’ salaries and repair school infrastructure, Democratic congressional leaders said Tuesday.

“Teachers are marching on state capitols across the country, demanding higher pay, better working conditions, and more resources,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate minority leader, speaking at the U.S. Capitol. “They’re not just fighting for themselves. They’re fighting for the future of America. They’re marching in blue states. They’re marching in red states.”

The plan seems unlikely to make it through Congress, which is under Republican control. Democrats appear to be trying to harness some of the energy generated by teacher strikes and protests to help their candidates in the midterm elections later this year by drawing a sharp contrast between their K-12 vision and the Trump administration’s. The plan’s release was timed to coincide with U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ appearance before the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

The Democrats have a chance of retaking the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate, political prognosticators say.

So what’s in the plan? The proposal, which has the backing of both teachers’ unions, calls for $50 billion in new money to increase teacher compensation. Teachers’ salaries have remained flat in many states for years, leading to massive protests in Arizona, Colorado, North Carolina, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and elsewhere. The money could also be used to recruit and retain a strong and diverse teacher workforce. It would mean an additional $5 billion a year for K-12, or roughly a third of what schools currently get for Title I funding to help educate disadvantaged children.

The plan also calls for a new $50 billion fund to help pay for new school infrastructure. That’s a lot of money. In fact, it’s more than 70 percent of the overall budget for the U.S. Department of Education, which stands at $70 billion.

And it would seek to provide more support to boost teaching and learning in schools that get federal Title I grants and to make sure that those schools get access to a well-rounded education, including computer science, music, and civics.

It also calls for meeting the federal commitment to special education funding. The Individuals with Disabilities Act, passed back in 1970s, calls for the feds to meet up to 40 percent of the excess cost of educating students in special education. Congress has never come close to providing that amount and currently funds about 14 percent of those costs. Fully funding IDEA would mean an additional $21 billion a year, on top of the roughly $13 billion states currently receive.

The proposal, which the Democrats call “A Better Deal for Students and Teachers,” also calls for safeguarding teachers’ ability to bargain collectively.

Schumer was joined by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the House minority leader, and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate education committee. Also on hand: Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, and Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

How would the Democrats’ pay for their plan? They want to “revisit” the recently enacted tax cuts for the top 1 percent of earners.

“Instead of giving a tax cut to the richest of Americans, we should give a pay raise to teachers in this country who our students depend on to succeed. Period. No ‘ands,’ no ‘ifs,’ no ‘buts,’” Schumer said.

So how realistic is this proposal? Not very, at least in the short term, as Schumer acknowledged. President DonaldTrump’s first term doesn’t end until early 2021. And he seems unlikely to sign legislation that calls for more money for K-12 schools, given that his most recent spending proposal calls for slashing the Education Department’s budget by 5 percent.

“I don’t’ think the odds of something like this passing are large in the next couple years,” Schumer said. “Our Republican colleagues so far, have not funded education. They’ve slashed it. If you look at that budget on education that President Trump submitted, it’s a joke. ... The American people realize that teachers are so important and should be paid more. Demonstrations and walkouts around the country got huge support from the American people.”

And he said that voters would support raises for teachers, if it means the “very wealthy would not get such a large tax cut. ... I think our day is going to come sooner than you think.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi folds her note cards after announcing a proposal to increase teacher pay, during a news conference on May 22 in Washington.--Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP