(Bloomberg) -- Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris is proposing a $315 billion boost in federal spending to give the average public school teacher a $13,500 raise. The plan would be funded by higher estate taxes, according to an aide.
The California senator released her plan Tuesday after previewing it to College Democrats at a Saturday campaign event in Houston. Her campaign cited a finding by the left-leaning Economic Policy Institute that teachers earned 11.1 percent less in 2017 than similarly qualified professionals, after factoring in benefits.
Harris’s teacher plan is the latest entry in a range of policy proposals from the large field of Democratic contenders, including plans to expand the safety net, overhaul federal elections and change the structure of government. The 15 declared Democratic candidates are vying for the affections of progressive voters seeking to upend the status quo and reduce income inequality.
Senator Elizabeth Warren in particular has propelled the early primary debate with policy papers on an annual tax on wealth over $50 million, investing in affordable housing and breaking up big technology companies.
For Harris, the teacher pay proposal is an effort to appeal to a Democratic-leaning constituency that is largely unionized and influential in party politics. An NPR/Ipsos poll in May 2018 found that 59 percent of teachers have worked a second job, 46 percent have incurred debt to meet expenses, and at least 8 in 10 have used their own money to buy school supplies.
“States will receive the largest federal investment in teacher pay in history -- enough to increase pay for nearly every teacher in America and entirely close the teacher pay gap,” according to Harris’s six-page policy paper.
A Harris campaign aide said she would cover the $315 billion cost by expanding the estate tax. The aide said such an expansion could mean lowering the exemption of about $11 million per person, or limiting maneuvers like grantor retained annuity trusts used by wealthy people to avoid the tax. The aide didn’t offer more details.
The plan has three components. First, the federal government would provide 10 percent of the funds required to bring teacher pay in line with wages for other similarly qualified professionals. Second, it would create a federal match of $3 for every $1 a state spends to raise pay until that gap is eliminated. Third, it would require states to maintain this level and adjust for wage inflation as a condition to continue receiving federal funds.
Harris, who would be the first black woman president and is heavily courting the African-American community, argued that her education proposal would "disproportionately serve students of color" by supporting the public schools most in need of help.
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