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According to a recent decision by the state Supreme Court, Tennessee must find a more equitable way to pay teachers and reduce the wide disparity that exists between low-income, rural districts and better financed urban and suburban districts. Currently, teachers in low-income districts can make $12,000 or $14,000 per year more simply by driving across county or state lines.

In a decision that could cost the state up to $450 million, the court determined that low-income districts could not recruit and retain well-qualified teachers, and therefore could not provide the equal educational opportunities required by the Tennessee constitution. Under the current system, low-income school districts receive supplements based on the 1993 average teacher salary of $28,094 to help remain competitive, according to Education Week. Meanwhile, the Tennessee’s current average salary is closer to $38,000-a $10,000 difference.

Like many other states around the country, Tennessee’s budget is very tight. Over the last three years, the state has resorted to borrowing from future budgets and raiding the tobacco settlement fund to balance the budget. In spite of these accommodations, the state legislature still had to pass an increase in the state’s sales and business taxes to end a three-day government shutdown. Both candidates for governor, Rep. Van Hilleary (R-TN) and Phil Bredesen, a former mayor of Nashville, remain in opposition to an income tax increase, or any other form of tax increase, leaving the question of funding the court decision up in the air.

Education Week article

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