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Governor Carney announces plan to raise teacher salaries by nine percent in next budget

Governor John Carney speaks in the library of Nellie Stokes Elementary School in Camden.
Paul Kiefer
Delaware Public Media
Governor John Carney joined a group of state lawmakers at Nellie Stokes Elementary School in Camden to announce plans to raise teacher salaries and increase opportunity funding for Delaware school districts in the coming budget.

Gov. John Carney announced plans to dedicate millions of dollars to raising public educators’ salaries on Tuesday — part of a strategy to help Delaware school districts recover from persistent staffing shortages by competing with the salaries offered to teachers in neighboring states.

No Delaware school district has avoided hiring challenges, early retirements and resignations that have thinned the ranks of public educators across the country.

But average starting salaries for Delaware teachers lag thousands of dollars behind neighboring states. Delaware teachers earn an average starting salary of just over $43,000, compared to $54,000 in New Jersey, for example. With Delaware unable to compete in the labor market, lawmakers voted last year to create a Public Education Compensation Committee tasked with proposing updates to educator pay scales.

The Commitee's final report is due in November, but on Tuesday, Delaware Education Secretary Dr. Mark Holodick told a small crowd gathered in the library of Nellie Stokes Elementary School in Camden that the staffing crisis requires more immediate interventions. "We can't afford to wait until November," he said.

Carney offered an outline of what those interventions may look like. They include raising salaries for teachers — meaning educators who work directly with students — by nine percent, along with three percent raises for other educators, including paraprofessionals.

Additionally, he proposes increasing the available opportunity funding for Delaware school districts to $53 million, which districts can spend on programs of their choosing so long as it serves the needs of disadvantaged students, ranging from students with learning disabilities to English language learners. Carney's proposed investment of an additional $15 million opportunity funding would bring the state a step closer to his previous goal of offering $60 million in opportunity funding by 2025.

Carney also noted his plans to provide an additional $3 million for the Wilmington Learning Collaborative, which would bring the project's budget to $10 million.

Holodick noted that if the General Assembly approves the proposed education spending, it could coincide neatly with the hiring cycle for new teachers. "The timing of this plan is critical," he said, "in that it is ahead of students graduating teacher prep programs this spring."

Delaware State Education Association (DSEA) President Stephanie Ingram — whose organization serves as an umbrella labor group for educators statewide — also appeared alongside Carney to endorse the plan. "[Through] our continued effort to raise educator pay to a respectful level," she said, "we can continue to implement effective solutions for the education shortage by recruiting and retaining – especially retaining – quality educators in Delaware.”

However, Ingram also underscored that DSEA will continue advocating for pay raises for other educators and school staff. "For the transportation workers who safely bring their students to and from school campuses, for the nutrition service workers who make delicious meals served in our schools," she said. "There is much more work to be done to make educator salaries competitive."

The raises fall short of a proposal DSEA brought to the Public Education Compensation Commitee in October, which suggested raising base pay for Delaware teachers to $60,000 to match Maryland, which plans to reach the same base salary by 2026.

Some members of the committee — including Delaware Senate Education Committee Chair Laura Sturgeon — urged their colleagues to issue recommendations for reworking Delaware's educator pay scales on a faster timeline, though the committee ultimately voted to retain its November deadline.

Sturgeon says that Carney's decision to propose salary increases for teachers before the Public Education Compensation Committee issues its report could push the committee to be more ambitious in its recommendations. "Assuming these raises survive [the Delaware General Assembly's] Joint Finance Committee, we will already be a step ahead by November," she said. "We'll be able to build upon this."

But Sturgeon says increasing salaries alone will not solve mounting teacher burnout.

She believes the state should take the opportunity to set higher standards for teachers’ working conditions, including limiting class sizes and guaranteeing that teachers receive time to prepare for classes during the workday. She says while those standards could be set on a local level through collective bargaining agreements between teachers' unions and school districts, lawmakers can act to establish a baseline.

"The state can say, ‘every teacher has to have 45 minutes of duty-free preparation time,'" she said. "Let’s be aspirational and say 90 minutes. If they want to increase that at the local level, they can.”

Sturgeon adds that offering higher starting salaries is a precondition for raising standards for working conditions – most of the improvements would only be possible in fully staffed schools.

Paul Kiefer comes to Delaware from Seattle, where he covered policing, prisons and public safety for the local news site PubliCola.
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