A proposed change to state's teacher pay schedule has lawmakers speaking out.
A handful of House Democrats gathered Thursday morning to denounce to proposed changes to the state's minimum salary schedule for teachers.
"We've demoralized (teachers), and morale is the worst that it's been since I've been teaching for 25 years," said Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville).
"It changes a salary schedule that teachers have come to work for, come to believe in, and come to strive for," said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley).
In Tennessee, teacher pay is based on experience and degrees. Under the current schedule, teachers receive pay increases for nearly every year of service, up to 20 years.
Additional pay is allotted for each level of training beyond a Bachelor's degree.
The proposed schedule for 2013-14 would increase base pay by 1.5%, but it would also reduce the number of steps in salary increases, only providing additional pay every five years up to 15 years.
Pay incentives for any training beyond a Master's degree would be eliminated.
"We are going to gut the salary schedule and reduce it, with a significant impact on veteran teachers. And for the first time, the state will say higher degrees have no value," said Jim Wrye, Government Relations Manager with Tennessee Education Association (TEA).
In recent years, TEA has been side-by-side with educators, taking a stand against an administration that replaced collective bargaining rights and restructured tenure.
On Thursday, Robertson County teacher Larry Proffitt was also speaking out.
"I'm just a teacher, and I know how that's going to affect me as a teacher. And that's what matters to me," he said.
Proffitt told Nashville's News 2 that teachers are rallying to fight the proposed changes, organizing through telephone calls, emails, and social media.
Proffitt and others are expected to be there when Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman presents the proposal to the state board on Friday.
"I'm telling you, if the state Board of Education would just put on the brakes and listen, they would get the message," Proffitt said.
Under state law, a salary schedule must be submitted every year. In February, the Board of Education (TBOE) ordered the Department of Education (TDOE) to design a schedule that "better aligns compensation with student outcomes," after data from the department revealed years of experience and training do not match up with student achievement.
"(Commissioner Huffman) said there is not a dime of difference between brand new and 15-year teachers," Wrye said, "(but) teacher pay is a significant factor in student disparities."
According to TDOE, 134 of the 137 school districts statewide pay above the minimum, but critics worry the proposed changes will set a low standard.
"The last thing we should be doing is cutting salaries, or we'll the drive the best and the brightest away from teaching our kids," Rep. Johnson said.
Following Thursday's news conference, Commissioner Huffman released a statement that read: "It is unfortunate that some groups and elected officials are presenting inaccurate information. It is against Tennessee law for any school district to cut a teacher's pay."
The statement continued, "Additionally, this administration has added more than $130 million in state money for teacher salaries over the past three years. We will continue to look for ways to increase teacher pay, decrease state mandates, and increase local control of school decisions."
A final vote on the proposal is expected Friday at a Special Called Meeting by the Tennessee Board of Education.
The meeting is scheduled at 12:30 p.m. and will be preceded by a Special Called Workshop at 10 a.m. in the TSBA Conference Room at 525 Brick Church Park Drive.