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Alabama lawmakers advance historic pay raises for teachers

By KIM CHANDLER, Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama lawmakers are poised to approve the largest pay raises in a generation for experienced public school teachers in an effort to keep educators from leaving state classrooms.

The Alabama Senate voted 32-0 Thursday for the budget that would raise minimum salaries for teachers with nine or more years experience. The raises would range from from 5% to nearly 21%, depending on years of experience.

Sen. Arthur Orr, the chairman of the budget writing committee, said the goal is to encourage experienced teachers to stay in the classroom and to attract more students to the field of teaching. The spending plan now moves back to the Alabama House of Representatives where House leaders have expressed support for the raises.

“Hopefully, seeing those pay raises, we’ll have more people staying in education rather than saying, ‘I’m out, I’m tired,'” Orr, a Republican from Decatur, said.

The size of the raise would be based on a teacher’s years of experience.

A teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 20 years of experience would see their salary rise from $51,810 to $57,214. A teacher with a master’s degree and 25 years experience would see their pay rise from $61,987 to $69,151.

Teachers with less than nine years of experience would see a 4% raise.

Orr said the state has competitive salaries for new teachers compared to surrounding states, but the state is “falling behind” in salaries for mid-career educators.

The proposal would also provide an automatic 1% yearly raise and do away with a salary cap that currently ends step raises after 27 years of teaching. Orr said that should give educators — and those considering teaching as a career — some minimum guarantee of how their salaries will increase over time.

School systems in Alabama and across the country have reported concerns about teacher shortages, particularly as the coronavirus pandemic accelerated a wave of retirements. That has led states to look at pay increases and other measures to try to recruit and retain educators.

Amy Marlowe, executive director of the Alabama Education Association, said the positive response from teachers has been “just overwhelming.”

“This will do more to keep people in the classroom than what we originally thought,” Marlowe said.

Marlowe said school systems are seeing a teacher shortage in all subjects and in all grades as educators leave the classroom for retirement or other jobs. She said the state is at the precipice of staffing cliff unless something is done.

Under the current proposal, teachers with 35 years experience would see a record-setting yearly raise of nearly 21%, Marlowe said. Marlowe said teachers last saw large pay raises in the 1980s when lawmakers approved 15% increases for two consecutive years during George Wallace’s last term as governor.

Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves on Wednesday signed legislation authorizing a pay raise for that state’s public school teachers, long among the lowest-paid in the nation.

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