- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam said Wednesday that he regrets not being able to give the state’s teachers a raise and pledged to find ways to increase their pay after vowing to do so last year.

Earlier this week, the Republican governor said he won’t be able to give teachers and state employees a pay increase next year mainly because of an ongoing decline in revenue collections.

Haslam said poor revenue collections are forcing him to make $150 million in reductions for the remainder of this budget year that ends June 30 and $160 million for next year. Sales tax collections have fallen short by $33 million, and business tax collections are down $215 million.

“I think it’s really important that they understand that this is the last thing we want to do,” Haslam told reporters Wednesday. “We’re dealing with a very difficult budget reality.”

Last year, Haslam pledged to improve the salaries of the state’s teachers. The governor said Wednesday that he’s still committed to raising teacher salaries.

“Is this something we’re going to try to improve every time we have a chance to address the budget? You bet,” he said.

Many of the state’s teachers have been frustrated the past few years because of education reforms they’ve had to adapt to, such as tougher evaluations. They are also opposed to a proposal to tie student performance on standardized test scores to teacher licensing.

The Tennessee Department of Education recommended the new licensure policy, and the State Board of Education voted in August to support it. However, the board changed its stance in January.

Legislation has been proposed to prevent the policy from taking effect if the board approves it.

The Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, has long argued that the Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System, or TVAAS data, is a statistical estimate and could lead to a flawed evaluation of a teacher.

Ashley Evett, who teaches 6th grade English, said teachers have been working hard and are tired of hearing Haslam’s pay promise.

“He will not be giving us what we deserve, but he’s going to continue to add stipulations and standards on our job,” Evett said.

The governor said his administration has given pay increases since he took office in 2011, and noted Wednesday that Tennessee’s teacher salaries are better than the national average.

The administration has committed more than $130 million since 2011 in new, recurring funds for teacher salaries, translating into the average Tennessee teacher earning $50,000 per year, according to the governor’s office.

“Teacher salaries … have increased at double the national average in Tennessee since we’ve been in office,” Haslam said.

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