Kamala Harris deflects skepticism of plan to increase teachers’ pay

Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California is touting her plan to increase teachers’ salaries, saying the proposal could yield an “incredible return.”

“I am talking about an incredible return on our investment,” Harris said to CNN host Wolf Blitzer on Tuesday. “When we look at the essential functions of government, there are three: public health, public safety, and public education. And we are giving the public education piece a short shrift.”

The plan has garnered some skepticism, but Harris deflected that by pointing to other proposals to allocate federal funds to buy guns for teachers.

“Meanwhile, we have … a secretary of education who wants to give teachers guns,” Harris said. “No, you know what, teachers don’t need guns. They need a raise.”

In a letter in August, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos left it up to local governments to allocate federal grants to purchase guns for teachers: “I have no intention of taking any action concerning the purchase of firearms or firearms training for school staff under the [Elementary and Secondary Education Act],” she wrote in a letter.

Harris, a Democratic candidate in the 2020 US presidential election, announced her proposal on Tuesday. Her campaign heralded it as the biggest potential US investment in teacher salaries and estimated it would cost $315 billion over the course of 10 years.

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Under the plan, teachers would be receiving an average of a 23% base pay increase, totaling about $13,500.

Critics speculated Harris’ plan could add to record-high budget deficits, which hit $234 billion in February. The budget deficit for last year’s fiscal year topped at $779 billion, the highest amount in six years. The Congressional Budget Office also estimated the deficit would balloon to around $1 trillion by 2022.

Harris proposed raising the estate tax to fund the program without adding to the deficit.

“Let me tell you what is adding to the budget deficit,” Harris said. “This tax bill that they passed, that gives a tax benefit to the top 1% and the biggest corporations in this country. So when those same people start to talk about why we should not invest in our teachers, I actually am not sympathetic to their argument. Because I think their values are misplaced.”

“We are not paying our teachers their value,” Harris added. “There are two groups of people who are raising our children: parents … and our teachers. And we’ve got to recognize the benefit that we receive from their work.”

Large groups of teachers have walked out of classrooms to protest their wages as recently as this month. One study from the Economic Policy Institute estimated that school teachers made 11% less than other professionals with similar backgrounds in 2017.

“This should not be thought of as a partisan issue,” Harris said. “It really shouldn’t even be thought of as a bipartisan issue. It’s nonpartisan. It’s about the education of our children.”

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