Durbin, Baldwin, Smith, Bustos Introduce Bill to Address Teaching Disparities in Low-Income Communities of Color

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Tina Smith (D-MN), along with U.S. Representative Cheri Bustos (D-IL-17), today introduced a bicameral bill that would address severe nationwide shortages of early childhood and K-12 teachers that disproportionately impacts students from low-income backgrounds and students of color.  Exacerbated by low pay, school leadership instability, and poor teaching conditions, schools in low-income communities struggle to retain experienced, qualified education professionals.  Teacher pay has worsened in the past 20 years, and teachers in low-income schools are more underpaid than teachers in more affluent schools.  

The Retaining Educators Takes Added Investment Now (RETAIN) Act creates a fully refundable tax credit for teachers, paraprofessionals, mental health providers, and school leaders in Title I schools and educators, program providers, and program directors in Head Start, Early Head Start, and Child Care & Development Block Grant (CCDBG) funded early childhood education programs.  The tax credit increases as these professionals become more experienced to incentivize retention.

“We have a teaching shortage in communities across Illinois and the country because we pay our educators too little and incentivizes high quality and experienced educators to move to more affluent, higher paying districts. The impact on Black and Brown students and low-income communities is particularly drastic, with many students in the greatest need taught by teachers with the least experience. This has only worsened during the pandemic,” Durbin said. “We can help address teaching disparities immediately by incentivizing teachers and other educational professionals to make careers in areas with the most need.”

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, America was facing a shortage of early childhood and K-12 teachers because they are so often underpaid and overworked, especially in low-income communities,” said Baldwin. “After a year of this pandemic we must do more to support our nation’s educators. Providing a fully refundable tax credit to teachers and staff at Title I schools is a commonsense way to both reward our educators for the work they do and boost retention in our schools, which will ultimately create a higher quality learning environment for our nation’s students.”

“Public school teachers work every day to meet the academic and emotional needs of their students,” said Smith. “And yet they remain largely underpaid. This is contributing to teacher shortages, which disproportionately affect students from low-income backgrounds and students of color. That's just wrong. The RETAIN Act will help raise teacher pay, address teacher shortages and ultimately help students get the best education possible.”

“The pandemic has laid bare how empty teacher positions can impact our children and communities as a whole. When we leave teachers underpaid and undervalued, we sell our next generation short,” said Bustos. “As teacher shortages have continued to skyrocket, we must bolster our recruitment and retainment efforts. Today I’m proud to join Senators Durbin, Baldwin and Smith to introduce the RETAIN Act and support our educators.”  

According to federal data, the average teacher salary in 2019 was $64,470—though this obscures lower pay in less affluent school districts.  The national median salary of ECE teachers in 2019 was just $30,520 (qualifying many for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). 

Teacher pay is largely shaped by local tax revenue, and to receive modest increases, teachers must obtain expensive graduate degrees—adding student loan debt that dwarfs the accompanying pay raise.  Further, schools consistently struggle to attract and retain effective teachers who reflect the diversity of students, particularly with respect to teachers who are African-American, Latino, and/or men. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the teacher shortage.  In 2020, a survey by Horace Mann found nearly 27 percent of educators were considering leaving teaching due to the pandemic.  Similarly, a survey by the National Education Association found 28 percent of educators were considering leaving—including 55 percent of teachers with more than 30 years of experience.

The following organizations support the RETAIN Act: AASA - The Superintendent Association, American Federation of Teachers, American School Counselor Association, First Five Years Fund, Illinois Education Association, Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois Principals Association, National Association of Elementary School Principals, National Association of School Psychologists, National Education Association, Service Employees International Union, Higher Education Consortium for Special Education.