The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

March 6, 2014

Show the money?


— We suspect the warm feeling teachers may have gotten from such a generous offer of more money may be the only thing they get out of it.

The House Education Committee’s vote this week to significantly raise teacher pay across the board was a nice gesture toward an often underappreciated segment of our workforce.

The House Education Committee voted to approve a bill that would raise teacher salaries a total of $6,000 across-the-board over three years. Pay would be hiked $1,000 the first year, $2,000 the next, and $3,000 the third year under the proposal.

School service personnel would see a $3,000 raise over three years.

House Finance Committee Chairman Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said he didn’t know how much the proposed raise would cost.

“It’s certainly not something we have built into the budget at this point,” Boggs said.

And therein lies the problem.

West Virginia teachers are without a doubt underpaid in comparison with not just colleagues at the national level but those in adjoining states.

While pay for starting teachers in West Virginia public schools ranks 36th in the nation, according to teacherportal.com, overall pay for state teachers ranks 48th.

The pay amendment was introduced by Delegate David Walker, D-Clay. Few lawmakers spoke in favor of the $6,000 raise, although many expressed support for a smaller amount of $1,500.

However, Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh, said he approved the large raise but not the smaller effort. And Delegate Linda Sumner, R-Raleigh, also voiced support for a pay hike.

“We need to attract teachers to fill vacancies that will be opening up. We need to compete on a level with surrounding states to attract good teachers.”

Among those speaking out against the proposed increase were Delegates Mary Poling, D-Barbour, and Dave Pethel, D-Wetzel. Both called the dramatic increase fiscally irresponsible.

A raise for teachers was promised by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in his 2014 State of the State speech. The governor suggested a 2 percent hike for teachers and school personnel as a way to raise the state’s minimum salary for entry-level teachers to around $43,000 by 2019.

But the background for this exercise is the state’s $265 million budget shortfall for 2014. The governor has proposed to balance the budget using the state’s Rainy Day Fund and a combination of spending cuts to close the gap in the $4.7 billion total budget.

West Virginia teachers do deserve better pay. But without specific revenue sources to fund this pay raise, we doubt that it will come to pass, at least this year.

Teachers deserve an honest effort from lawmakers, and not just promises.