Kamala Harris announced a plan Tuesday to raise the salaries of teachers across the country by as much as 20%, offering a “historic” federal investment in American educators as the first major policy proposal of her presidential campaign.
The California senator’s plan would try to close is known as the “teacher pay gap,” a gulf in pay between educators and comparable workers. It would mean a direct federal investment of some $315 billion over 10 years, her campaign said, as well as incentives to push states to close the gap on their own.
The plan would give $3 in federal dollars for every $1 states put toward increasing teacher pay relative to other professions in their state. And it would make a “targeted investment” in teacher pay at high-poverty public schools, which mostly serve students of color — a salary boost that is meant, Harris's campaign said, to solve problems with high turnover and low experience that plague many struggling schools.
The plan would also include funding for teacher training and recruitment programs, particularly at historically black colleges.
The proposal is a sign of an increasing focus on raising teachers wages among Democrats after a string of high-profile teacher strikes and walkouts nationwide. Strikes last year in Oklahoma, West Virginia, and elsewhere stirred grassroots political energy and organizing, particularly among women voters. In the early days of the 2020 campaign trail, candidates from Harris to Beto O’Rourke to Elizabeth Warren have fielded questions on how they will help teachers.
Education is consistently at the top of voters’ minds, according to national surveys that have found people consider education more pressing than almost any other issue. But it often receives little attention in the crush of presidential campaigns, losing out to flashier, more heated topics like health care, gun control, and abortion.
That’s partly because, compared to states, the federal government has long played a relatively small role in K–12 education. Only a tiny fraction of funding comes from the federal level; the vast majority is made up by states, which fund education — and pay teachers — at vastly differing levels.
The Harris initiative would mark a shift in that dynamic, giving a significant chunk of federal government money to states to pay elementary and secondary educators. The $315 billion is a massive investment compared to other federal education initiatives; Barack Obama's Race to the Top grants, his signature education initiative that gave federal money to states, cost $4.3 billion.
Her campaign said it would pay for the investment by “strengthening the estate tax” — which in 2019 does not apply to the first $11.4 million of an individual’s estate — and closing other tax loopholes that favor the wealthy.
The teacher pay proposal fits in with another signature policy for Harris’s campaign. Last year, in the Senate, Harris introduced a bill to offer $500 in monthly tax credits to working- and middle-class families, called the LIFT Act, which she has made a core piece of her early presidential run. She said at the outset of her campaign that passing the LIFT Act would be her first priority as president.