Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris outlined a plan to raise teachers’ pay across the country during an event in Iowa City on Wednesday night. The U.S. Senator from California also called for addressing wealth inequality more broadly.
At a town hall of hundreds of people at the University of Iowa, Sen. Kamala Harris D-Calif., pledged to raise teachers’ wages by thousands of dollars a year, by the end of her first term. For teachers in the state of Iowa, closing the teacher pay gap would amount to an extra $12,200.
According to the National Education Association, teachers in Iowa make an average of $55,647. Harris says teachers are not paid at the same level as other workers with similar education and experience.
“We are not paying our teachers their value,” Harris told the crowd at the Iowa Memorial Union Wednesday night.
According to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute, the teacher pay gap has been getting worse since the 1990s, with educators making 18.7 percent less than what their peers did in 2017. That’s up from 1.8 percent in 1994. Harris says she wants to guarantee a better living for teachers on the job today, and those who want to teach but walk away from the profession for higher-paying positions.
“I want that you will be able to follow your passion instead of looking at the debt that you have accumulated from student loans and the bills you need to pay and instead you are forced to take a job working for a pharmaceutical company.”
Harris’ plan to increase wages in the country’s schools would entail expanding the federal estate tax, and would require states to pay in too. Under the proposal, the U.S. Department of Education would pay $3 for every $1 a state dedicates to teacher pay raises. It’s not clear that leaders in Iowa or other states would sign on to such a financial commitment. But Harris says investing in the country’s teachers is an investment in the next generation as well.
“I believe you can judge a society based on how it treats its children,” Harris said. “One of the greatest expressions a society can make is an expression of love for its children…is to invest in their education, and by extension that means investing in our teachers.”
Harris also called for adopting a $15 federal minimum wage, and repealing the Republican-led tax cut plan approved by President Donald Trump, and replacing it with her own tax cut plan, called the LIFT Act.
“Wages are not keeping up with the cost of living in our country and that’s a reality,” Harris said. “I don’t know anybody who can, in our country, given the cost of living, get by [on minimum wage], without working two or three jobs.”
Low income and middle class households making under $100,000 a year would stand to benefit under her proposal, with benefits tapered based on how much an individual or family is earning. Families could see a tax credit of up to $6,000 a year, or $500 a month.
Iowa City resident Joan Vandenberg along with her daughter Claire Kelly said they were “impressed” with Harris, saying she’s a “great communicator” who’s addressing income inequality, a key issue for them. Berger said she’s still undecided in the race, but said Harris is winning her over, even after she “felt the Bern” in 2016.
“I would support her over Bernie [Sanders] right now. Bernie did a lot for us to bring some issues to the front, but I think an African American woman can represent the needs of…what we need more than an older white guy,” Berger said. “I still love him but I think he needs to pass the torch.”