Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) is expected to announce her support for a plan that would see the federal government step in to increase teachers’ salaries. The move comes at a time when widespread discontent among public school teachers have led to organized work stoppages across the nation.
The Los Angeles Times reports that Harris is expected to unveil her plan to augment teacher salaries at a campaign rally at Texas Southern University in Houston. Driving Harris’ decision, according to the report, is a “widespread concern that teaching, a female-dominated profession, is badly underpaid.” Harris plans to frame the initiative as one that will “close the teacher pay gap.”
As the L.A. Times goes on to note:
A study by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank, found that public school teachers in 2017 made 11% less than similar professionals with college degrees, even after taking into account benefits, which are often higher for teachers than many private-sector workers.
Widespread anxiety over low pay among public school teachers have sparked a spate of teacher strikes across the nation.
In Oakland, California — the city of Harris’ birth — teachers recently concluded a seven-day strike having tentatively won a number of concessions including a boost in their take-home pay. Oakland’s teachers were the lowest paid in Alameda County prior to the strike, with salaries that ranged between $46,750 and $83,724 per year prior — far short of what is often required to pay rent in Northern California’s increasingly expensive real estate market.
Since the beginning of 2018, more teachers have gone on strike than in all previous work-stoppages since 1993 combined, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As Data For Progress’ Omer Arain reported earlier this week, the “abrupt rise in teacher strikes…likely represents a collective frustration from years of strained public education funding.”
Arain goes on to note, “Teacher pay has yet to return to pre-Great Recession levels — the Brookings Institute estimates a 3.5 percent real decline in teacher pay since 2007. A whopping 94 percent of public school teachers pay for supplies with their own money.”
Harris decision to unveil her plan to combat these trends in Texas is representative of emerging thought in Democratic circles that the Lone Star State may offer electoral opportunities in 2020. As the Fort Worth Star Telegram reported yesterday, Texas Democrats believe that Tarrant County, long considered to be a Democratic stronghold, is on the brink of falling to Democrats. In the 2018 election, current presidential contender Beto O’Rourke upset incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in Tarrant. Harris, however, was the first in the field to make an appearance in Tarrant.
The issue of teacher pay has salience in Texas as well. As ThinkProgress previously reported, a study conducted within the state found that a 10-percent salary increase led to a notable drop in teacher turnover.