Teacher pay central education issue

Make no mistake, improving teacher pay is the most important issue West Virginia legislators have to decide this session.

The world is watching to see what our law makers do next. The Senate “School Choice” proposal is just a distraction from the central problem of poor teacher pay and inadequate benefits. Better teacher pay should be considered on its own merits and should not be tied down within a bill on other issues.

Research shows that the single most important factor in educational success is teacher quality, but America faces a growing teacher shortage. West Virginia will have difficulty attracting and retaining qualified teachers unless we offer better pay and more professional support.

West Virginia teachers garnered international respect last winter when they demonstrated throughout the state for better compensation. Our teachers were the subject of emails from my Swiss host family during my college student exchange.

A British journal, The Economist, cited the West Virginia teacher strike as a model for orderly and purposeful labor demonstrations in the 21st Century.

Last fall Gov. Jim Justice said, “We all believe in education, investing in education and putting our money where our mouth is.” He pledged to put $100 million toward the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA). The State collected more tax dollars than expected this year, and it is time that teachers and other state employees get some of that money. Gov. Justice is proposing a 5 percent pay raise and funding for to support PEIA.

West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael quoted Thomas Jefferson who said: “I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness.”

Jefferson was talking about the code for the state of Virginia, but these words apply in each of our sovereign states.

Schools take the largest share of state taxes in most states, and the quality of life in each state is most defined by the education citizens receive in that state.