Providing Teachers Substantial, Responsible Pay Raises

It seems that throughout the past few weeks, everywhere you turn — whether it be on television, social media, newspapers — that it’s nothing but numbers when talking about West Virginia teacher raises.

One percent. Two percent. One-one-one-one-one. Three percent times three. Five years. Four years.

Here are some more numbers: According to the West Virginia Department of Education, for this school year, the average contracted salary for a teacher in this state is $45,642.48.

Compare that number to these: In 2016, West Virginia had a per capita personal income (PCPI) — or average income — of $36,624. This PCPI ranked 49th in the United States and was 74 percent of the national average, $49,246. This is according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis at the United States Department of Commerce.

And that brings me to my first point, which is the Senate’s plan to increase teacher salaries as the result of the concerns we’ve heard about West Virginia’s teacher pay when it comes to being compared to our neighboring states.

While the amount proposed in the Senate’s version of the teacher pay raise is approximately a 5 percent raise over the next few years, it’s often not mentioned that, actually written into state code, there is an additional mandatory raise of $518-519 dollars for every year of service. So, with this increase, most teachers will see an additional $922 or so per year for the next five years (More numbers: That’s a raise of approximately $4,610 in that timeframe).

The other significant concern which he heard from teachers were those surrounding their health insurance plan, PEIA, and potential increases they would’ve seen in their health care costs. As a result of those concerns, the governor and the Legislature worked to freeze the planned increases to PEIA this year that caused our state’s teachers so much concern. We came up with the money to offer teachers a multi-year guaranteed raise — on top of their required pay increases — and we did so within the scope of responsible budgeting. We didn’t make promises we couldn’t keep, and we didn’t write checks they’ll not be able to cash.

But, despite those efforts, it appears that it’s not enough. Our teachers are being told this pay raise is insulting and a freeze of PEIA is not a fix.

I’m left to wonder this: What, exactly, is enough? We’ve met with union officials who have stated that teachers deserve more and better, but we have asked for actual numbers and still don’t have an answer.

PEIA is being frozen so a fix can be found. There’s no quick way to find a solution. PEIA covers over 220,000 West Virginians. It’s a huge program and making rash decisions that affect people’s health care is a terrible way to govern. But that’s why any changes are being halted, so an answer can be found. Is this not what our public employees want and deserve?

If these were easy problems with easy solutions, maybe West Virginia teachers wouldn’t be saddled year after year with historically low pay. These issues did not appear in the last six months, or last four years. These are long-term, systemic problems.

The bottom line is this: We have an obligation to the taxpayers of West Virginia to spend their hard-earned money responsibly, to control government spending, and to create opportunities for all West Virginia families. The policies we have worked to implement since taking the majority in the Legislature have created positive results for both our workers and our economy. We are finally moving in a new direction and cannot repeat the failed policies of the past.

Our state’s education system must be focused on students and their parents, as well as teachers and administrators. We pledge to work with them to find long-term solutions to all of our education challenges

Weld is majority whip of the West Virginia State Senate. An attorney, he resides in Wellsburg.