CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia education leaders say a proposed one percent pay raise for teachers is not enough to fill the more than 700 vacancies statewide.
“We’re still 49th in the nation in pay. One percent doesn’t move us anywhere,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association following Governor Jim Justice’ second State of the State Address Wednesday night at the Capitol.
The governor proposed increasing the average pay for state workers, including teachers, by one percent each year over a five year period. The raise would be combined with annual step increases.
Currently, the starting teacher salary in West Virginia is around $33,000. Lee said the Legislature needs to come up with a plan to raise that by $10,000 over the next few years.
“What I would recommend is that we really come up with a plan and that we get to that $43,000 in a five year period,” Lee said. “We have to make sure that our teachers want to come into education and then stay in West Virginia.”
Christine Campbell, president of the West Virginia American Federation of Teachers, said “every little bit helps,” but teachers need job security and a competitive pay. She said changes to teachers’ health benefits are also a concern.
“Is a one percent pay raise going to be enough to keep people here? What are the cuts to our rates and benefits that are going to balance out or cause people to leave anyway?” she asked.
Education officials say teachers are leaving the state because they’re not getting paid enough. According to Lee, about 50 percent of new teachers, by their fifth year, leave the profession to either get higher paying jobs somewhere else or leave West Virginia to work as a teacher in a different state.
Governor Justice also proposed making community and technical college free in West Virginia. He said his administration plans to devote about $7 million to subsidizing community and technical college education in the state.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson, 04) favored the idea.
“It’s just an excellent program that I think will generate jobs, growth and opportunity and do from a moral perspective what’s right for the people of West Virginia to provide them that stack-able skill set, education level to lift themselves from poverty,” Carmichael told MetroNews.
Campbell said it would be a great opportunity for high school kids to get a jump start on their career.
“I think the opportunity to have people going to school and be able to come out of that with at least an associates degree is going to give some opportunity to students that wouldn’t normally have that,” she said.
Justice said he wants to develop a way for high school students to earn an associate degree while still in school. He also proposed creating a 13th year for students to get additional accreditation or certifications.
The governor said in his speech that education “needs to be the center piece of everything we do.”