NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN )- On Thursday, Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) signed the Teacher Paycheck Protection Act, calling it “the largest pay raise in state history.”

“When I first came into office in 2019, the minimum salary for teachers was at $35,000, and now by the time I leave office, that minimum salary will be set at $50,000, making Tennessee a top 10 state for teacher pay,” Lee said in a press release.

The Governor’s plan aims to support students and teachers by:

  • Making Tennessee a top 10 state for teacher pay to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers
  • Raising the minimum teacher salary to $50,000 by 2026
  • Union membership dues are never automatically deducted from teacher paychecks

“[My] first reaction was…it’s not enough,” said Dr. Paula Pendergrass, Vice President of the Metropolitan Nashville Education Association (MNEA).

Advocates like Dr. Pendergrass know and see the realities public school teachers often go through. She said the increase is a step in the right direction, but is hopeful that more benefits will come.

“When you look at the fact that it costs well over $80,000 to live comfortably in Nashville, $50,000, although it’s a good start, is not enough,” Dr. Pendergrass explained.

Within the year, MNPS teachers have come forward demanding change, all while standing before the school board. Some described living paycheck to paycheck, being homeless, or commuting hours outside of Nashville.

“When I hear about some of our substitute teachers having to work two or three jobs just to make ends meet,” said Dr. Pendergrass. “Often you’ll hear that Nashville teachers are the highest paid in the state. Currently, we are, but like I said we have to think about the end game as well, and the fact that we have teachers who are not going to be able to retire.”

The MNPS Board has said changes have been happening. Earlier this year, a spokesperson for the school district pointed to nearly $67 million in the past two years that has gone toward teacher compensation.

“Teaching is more than just a career – it’s a calling,” the governor said. “The Teacher Paycheck Protection Act provides the largest salary increase in Tennessee history and ensures union dues are no longer collected by school districts, giving teachers control of their own hard-earned paycheck. I thank the General Assembly for their continued partnership to support Tennessee teachers and ensure taxpayer dollars are used to educate students, not fund politics.”