By Erik Sherman
March 26, 2019

Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) announced on Tuesday the first major policy initiative of her 2020 presidential campaign: a $315 billion, ten-year federal package to increase public-school teacher pay. The campaign has billed the plan as the “the largest investment in teachers in American history.”

The money would subsidize pay of K-12 teachers and provide financial incentives for state and local governments to raise salaries higher still. The average increase would be $13,500, or 23%. Funding for the plan would come from unnamed changes to the federal estate tax that applies to inherited amounts over $11.4 million for individuals and $22.8 million for married couples and applies to a tiny percentage of people.

The proposal is the largest targeting education among announced presidential candidates. It would immediately boost the income of an influential and politically active labor group across the country, potentially giving Harris an edge in seeking the nomination.

The arguments for higher teacher pay include a greater ability to attract and retain teachers. There was no indication of a plan to get more textbooks, computers, or other equipment and materials to classrooms.

The needed changes to the estate tax—a popular political target, whether for elimination or expansion—would be significant. A past analysis by the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that ending of the estate tax would mean a loss of roughly $269 billion over ten years. Although less than 1% of federal revenue, it is more than the annual spending on the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Environmental Protection Agency combined, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. To maintain the current revenue and add the additional Harris suggests would mean a roughly 217% increase.

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