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Kamala Harris plan would raise public school teacher pay by 23% on average

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Senator and 2020 presidential candidate Kamala Harris just introduced an ambitious new plan to give US public school teachers an average raise of $13,500, the biggest education policy proposal to come out of the 2020 field so far.

Harris’ plan would raise the estate tax and close loopholes to fund the massive federal boost to teacher pay, with her campaign estimating the full cost of the proposal at $315 billion over ten years.

The plan aims to address the stagnant wages of public school teachers, with Harris noting that teachers make an average of 11% less than similarly-educated professionals, and are more likely than other professionals to work a second job in order to make ends meet.

Over the past year, public school teachers in a number of states and cities including West Virginia, Arizona, Denver, and most recently, Oakland, have gone on strike for higher wages and better benefits.

“We can judge a society by how it treats its children,” Harris told “CBS This Morning.”

She added, “… and one of the greatest expressions of love for our children is to invest in their education. For too long, [teachers] have been paid substandard wages, and certainly not paid their value.”

Read more: Politicians often brand teachers as whiners — but most Americans agree that teachers are underpaid and deserve the right to strike

The plan would both increase pay, and direct the Department of Education to designate base salaries for teachers based on factors including the average income in their area and their level of experience. It would also incentivize states to contribute to teacher raises, with the federal government matching state investments.

By increasing pay, Harris’ plan seeks to boost retention and reduce teacher turnover, increase diversity in the education field and investment in low-income schools, and provide more professional development and opportunity for teachers to advance in the field.

“America’s fastest-growing occupations don’t have good enough pay and economic rights. Raising teacher pay is one pillar in a strategy to bring working people who are the backbone of our economy out of the margins and into the center of the conversation about economic justice,” Harris’ website says.

Some commentators, like liberal Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman, worried that the federal government offering to match $1 of state investment with $3 of federal funds would lead to states rejecting the money and reducing teacher pay in protest of a Democratic administration, similarly to how red states rejected Medicaid expansions they were offered as part of the Affordable Care Act.

In response, Harris’ national press secretary Ian Sams argued the push for teacher pay is overwhelmingly bipartisan, noting that a Republican legislature and governor in Oklahoma approved a $6,000 pay increase for public school teachers following massive walk-outs in 2018.

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