Business owners and managers understand paying everyone who works for them at the same rate just won't work. Some skills are in higher demand than others, so those possessing them earn more. And pay scales in some areas are higher than others so, to attract good employees, paychecks have to be larger there.
It doesn't work that way in West Virginia public schools. State pay scales for educators are the same for those teaching different subjects and for those in various regions of the state. Counties are free to supplement paychecks, but most are limited in their ability to do so.
Eastern Panhandle school administrators often have trouble hiring and keeping teachers for that reason. Higher pay in Virginia and Maryland attracts educators, sometimes resulting in shortages in our state.
The same is true for teachers in some high-demand subjects such as mathematics and science. Some wonder why they should stay in the Mountain State - even their degrees came from a public college or university - when much higher pay can be earned elsewhere.
"Differential" pay, higher for certain geographic areas and subjects, has been discussed for several years by state legislators. In some measure because of opposition from teachers' unions, the proposals never succeed.
But lawmakers studying a comprehensive "audit" of public schools in West Virginia are preparing for a new round of education reform. Differential pay is among ideas being discussed.
It should not be dismissed out of hand. Legislators are right to think about paying what is needed to attract and keep good teachers in high-demand subjects and geographic areas. It is not the only answer to the need for school reform in West Virginia, but it may be a piece of the puzzle that should not be discarded.