U.S. Senator Tina Smith Helps Introduce Bill to Address Teacher Shortages for Low-Income Students, Communities of Color

WASHINGTON, D.C. [7/24/20] – This week, U.S. Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) introduced a bill to address severe nationwide shortages of early childhood and K-12 teachers that disproportionately impact students from low-income backgrounds and students of color.  

For too long, schools in low-income communities have struggled to retain experienced, qualified education professionals. This is exacerbated by low pay, school leadership instability, and poor teaching conditions. 

The Retaining Educators Takes Added Investment Now (RETAIN) Act would create a fully refundable tax credit for teachers, mental health providers, school leaders, early childhood educators and other professionals working at K-12 schools and early childhood centers in low-income communities and communities of color.  The tax credit increases as these professionals become more experienced to incentivize retention. 

“Every student should have access to a quality K-12 public education and part of that is paying teachers more,” said Smith. “Teachers rise to the challenge, working hard to meet the academic and emotional needs of their students, but they remain largely underpaid. This contributes to teacher shortages, which disproportionately affect students from low-income backgrounds and students of color—at a time when education inequities will likely be further exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. That is just wrong. The RETAIN Act will help raise teacher pay, help schools overcome these shortages and ultimately help ensure students get the best education possible.”   

According to federal data, the average teacher salary in 2016 was $58,950—though this obscures lower pay in less affluent school districts.  The national median salary of Early Childhood Educator (ECE) teachers in 2015 was just $28,570 (qualifying many for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program).  

Teacher pay is largely shaped by local tax revenue, and to receive modest increases, teachers must obtain expensive graduate degrees—adding student loan debt that dwarfs the accompanying pay raise.  Further, schools consistently struggle to attract and retain effective teachers who reflect the diversity of students, particularly with respect to teachers who are African-American, Latino, and/or men.  The current pandemic is expected to exacerbate these inequalities.

A house companion bill was introduced this week by U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17).

You can access bill text here.