Presidential hopeful Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., made her first big policy pitch on the campaign trail Saturday: A new federal program to boost teacher pay.
She promised to close a “pay gap” between teachers and other college graduates. Teachers make about $13,000 less than similarly educated college graduates, according to Harris. And a recent study by the left-leaning think tank, the Economic Policy Institute, found that the wage gap between teachers and comparable professionals has grown over time, with teachers now earning nearly 19 percent less than other college-educated workers.
“You can judge a society by the way it treats its children, and one of the greatest expressions of love that a society can give to its children is educating those children with resources they need,” Harris said at a rally in Houston, according to the Associated Press.
Teacher pay—and education funding more generally—has obviously been a hot issue over the past year, triggering strikes in red states including West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma, as well as big-city districts like Denver. Presidential candidates, including Harris, have stood up for striking teachers on social media.
So why is coming out with a plan to boost educators’ salaries right out of the gate smart politics? Harris—and other Democratic contenders—are trying to capitalize on the energy of the #RedforEd movement, which fueled the teacher strikes.
And of course, the endorsements of the two big teachers’ unions, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, are up for grabs. The unions’ official seal of approval carries with it muscle (in the form of campaign volunteers) and money.
How exactly is Harris going to boost teacher pay? Harris’ campaign hasn’t outlined the specifics of the plan, saying they’ll be available later this week. But one possibility would be boosting Title II of the Every Student Succeeds Act, a $2 billion program that helps districts hire teachers and cover the cost of professional development. President Donald Trump has sought to scrap Title II in his budget requests, including the most recent one. But Congress hasn’t gone along with that proposal.
Another possibility: something along the lines of the Obama administration’s $5 billion RESPECT initiative, which was unveiled in 2012 and would have provided money to help revamp colleges of education, assist districts in creating career ladders for teachers, and give educators more time to collaborate. (The Obama proposal also would have provided resources to overhaul evaluation, which the federal government is now barred from monkeying with under the Every Student Succeeds Act.) Congress never gave serious consideration to the proposal.
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Photo: Melina Mara for the Associated Press
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