Kamala Harris proposes plan to hike teacher pay; says Black students and schools will benefit

"There is no reason why teachers should be paid different based on their race," Sen. Harris tells theGrio.

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Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris unveiled details of an ambitious new plan to increase teacher pay across the country, citing several gaps in compensation to educators.

The plan calls for the government to spend $350 billion with the intention of providing an average increase of $13,500 annually to teachers.

In a profession hit hard by strikes and high levels of turnover, the raise would address a key question that has been asked in American schools for generations: If teachers are so important, why aren’t they paid what they’re worth?

It is a major campaign initiative, the first among the field of declared 2020 Democratic candidates vying for the party nomination. In a release from her campaign, Harris pointed out that public school teachers make 11 percent less than similarly college-degreed professionals. Her commitment will be to close the pay gap within her first term.

The case for giving Black teachers a Raise

The reality for Black students and teachers is even harsher.

Black teachers are underrepresented in a field that once was one of few viable options for professional African-Americans. On average they earn $2,700 less than white teachers, according to data from the Center for American Progress.

“There is no reason why teachers should be paid different based on their race,” Sen. Harris told theGrio in an interview on Tuesday.

“But it remains a fact that they are and so let’s close that gap,” Harris continued.

Let’s close the gap in terms of pay. Let’s close the gap in terms of access and recruitment and retention of teachers. Let’s close the gap…in terms of the learning of children.”

–Sen. Kamala Harris shares her 2020 agenda for the Black community 

When it comes to Black students in public schools, they join a growing population of ethnic minorities who have fewer teachers who look like them- the profession is overwhelmingly white and female.

Studies have shown repeatedly that high quality teachers are linked to the best outcomes for students.  Black students also perform better when they have at least one Black teacher, and are more likely to enroll in college if they have a Black teacher by third grade.

I am traveling the country and I have met more teachers than I care to tell you who are working two jobs, sometimes three, to pay the bills,” Harris told theGrio.

“They keep teaching because they love teaching.”

Harris says her plan would specifically dedicate funding to recruiting and training candidates and teachers.  According to one of Harris’ aides, half of this funding is slated to go to “high-quality programs at HBCUs and other Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs).”

NORTH LAS VEGAS, NEVADA – MARCH 01: U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) speaks during a town hall meeting at Canyon Springs High School on March 1, 2019 in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Harris is campaigning for the 2020 Democratic nomination for president. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

–Sen. Kamala Harris gets backlash over question about reparations for African-Americans

How Harris’ plan would work

Sen. Harris says the $350 billion plan would be funded by strengthening the estate tax, which is a tax on properties and assets owned by the wealthiest Americans.

According to the proposal, the federal government would provide 10 percent base funding for the plan then create incentives for states to invest money in teacher salary as well.

Harris estimates the teacher pay gap, a salary which is currently 11 percent lower than other professions for college graduates, would be closed by the end of the first term of her presidency.

So far the plan has earned praise from NAACP Legal Defense Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill and former Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.


Where Does Harris Stand on Education?

Sen. Harris has come under criticism for supporting an anti-truancy program from her time as San Francisco District Attorney back in 2008.

The law sought prosecution for parents whose children missed weeks and months of school, after attempting to intervene with programming and social services meetings. According to Katy Miller, a former prosecutor who worked on the program, no more than 20 parents in a year were prosecuted, and their cases were extreme.

But many activists say that the approach of threatening people with jail is just more of the same in a broken system.

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Harris addressed critics in a February interview with The Root, saying she was “prepared to play the bad guy” on the topic:

“I do not intend to put any parent in jail and no parent went to jail,” she told the website “But the school district, society, this community, everyone including our business community, others, have got to take seriously the education of these children and give the parents the resources that they deserve and need.”

Today, Sen. Harris affirmed the motivation for focusing on education in her policy plan, which is often overlooked in presidential debates.

We also have to understand that the people who are on the front lines to actually make it happen are teachers and that’s why my priority is on teacher pay,” Harris told theGrio.

“If you say you care about the children. If you say you care about education then you have to care about teachers.”

–Kamala Harris hits Morehouse College and MLK church for campaign stops