Kamala Harris’s First Campaign Policy: A Raise for Teachers

Senator Kamala Harris of California announced a plan Tuesday to heavily invest federal money into teacher pay, the first policy rollout of her campaign for the Democratic nomination for president.

Ms. Harris’s proposal, which was billed as the “largest federal investment in teacher pay in U.S. history,” marks the next step for a campaign that began in February before a crowd of 20,000 supporters.

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In a statement detailing the proposed increase in teacher pay, Ms. Harris said that, under her administration, the Department of Education would create incentivized baselines for teacher salaries that local school districts would have to meet in order to receive certain federal funds.

The average teacher in America would receive a $13,500 pay increase, the campaign said.

“We have got to think about how we can bridge the gap between helplessness and hope,” Ms. Harris said at a campaign rally in Houston on Saturday, where she unveiled early portions of the teacher pay plan. “We don’t need walls. We need bridges. And that’s what we need in the next president of the United States — someone who knows how to build bridges, not walls.”

The plan, which would cost more than $300 billion over 10 years, would be paid for by “strengthening the estate tax,” the Harris campaign said. The Republican-led tax reform that passed under President Trump adjusted the threshold by which the government can collect taxes from the estates of the wealthiest Americans; Ms. Harris’s proposal would reverse that change, her campaign said, in addition to closing loopholes.

Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont progressive who is also running for president, released a plan to raise the estate tax earlier this year that would generate more than $2 trillion, according to estimates released at the time.

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Ms. Harris received considerable praise from education professionals for her proposal. Arne Duncan, the former education secretary under President Barack Obama, posted on Twitter, “Radical idea: pay the professionals we entrust to teach, nurture and mentor our children a better salary!” And Lily Eskelsen García, the president of the National Education Association, said, “This should be central to the 2020 conversation.”

Teacher strikes have roiled the nation over the past year, in states governed by Republicans such as Oklahoma and Arizona and in liberal bastions like California. Though the issue has cut across culture and demographics, Ms. Harris made a particular point to highlight how low teacher wages are particularly harmful for students who are racial minorities, whose school districts then have a harder time attracting qualified educators.

“You can judge a society by the way it treats its children,” Ms. Harris said in Houston. “And one of the greatest expressions of love that a society can give its children is educating those children with the resources they need.”

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