Teacher shortage, pay raises top of mind for union leaders at start of legislative session

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia has struggled to attract and retain school teachers for years and union leaders say the problem has gotten worse.

Fred Albert

“I get calls from members and non-members almost daily, young and seasoned veteran teachers, who are at the end. They can’t go on with things the way they are,” Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers, West Virginia, told state school board members Tuesday.

The state Board of Education heard an update during its monthly meeting in Charleston regarding the ongoing teacher shortage that has been exacerbated in large part due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Based on the latest teacher retention and mobility data in West Virginia, 20 percent of beginning teachers left after their first year are leaving the profession. That is twice the national average.

On average, 32 percent of West Virginia teachers leave within the first four years of entering the classroom, according to data provided to the state Department of Education.

The WVDE said the shortage can be due to a number of factors including low pay and/or benefits; lack of respect and esteem for the profession; fewer students entering and completing traditional teacher preparation; and inadequate supports for teachers once they enter the profession.

“Increased pay is one of the solutions, but it’s more than that,” Albert said. “We’ve got to take some things off our educator’s plates, so that they can do their job and that they can feel appreciated.”

Dale Lee

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said there are a number of incentives to attract students to enter the teaching field, but it hasn’t been enough to move the needle.

“I know the state department is looking at dual credits as it becomes incumbent upon our higher ed to work closely with us so that these kids can get a good jump start, but that’s not the total solution,” Lee said.

When a teacher leaves the classroom or profession, it can be a financial burden. Teacher turnover costs can range from $9,000 in a rural district to $21,000 in urban counties, according to WVDE.

Albert said the goal to support teachers to remain in the classroom is imperative.

“We’ve got to find a way to encourage young students to go into this profession and make it attractive to them,” Albert said.

Lee said amid the start of the Regular Legislative Session Tuesday, they’ll be ready to work with lawmakers on a number of education issues in the state.

“Too many times our politicians want to redesign, or re-imagine or redo public education without listening to the voice of the experts, without listening to the educators who are dealing with it every day. Bring them to the table,” Lee urged lawmakers. “They have a tremendous amount of knowledge.”

One proposal educators are keeping their eye on this session is a plan by Governor Jim Justice to issue a 5 percent pay raise for all state workers, including teachers and school service personnel.

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