When Gov. Jim Justice was sworn in, he said education was the centerpiece of his administration. While I and others around the state agree that education is important, little attention and appreciation have been shared from the Legislature. If West Virginia wants to move forward, we have got to find a way to provide high-quality education to our young leaders. There are over 1,500 vacant positions in classrooms around the state and it’s only getting worse. Many of these positions are being filled with people who are not certified for the position.
We have a wonderful new program called Grow Your Own Pathways to support high school students who want to have a path to teaching without the burden of all the cost, but we need help from the Legislature. We need comparable compensation for workers equal to the work they are doing. States bordering West Virginia have significantly higher pay, and students are getting degrees in West Virginia and using them outside of it. If we want our young people to be prepared for their careers, we need to ensure our classrooms are being taught by highly qualified individuals. Educators love their students and their jobs, but they also have bills to pay. Teacher pay has changed very little over the last two decades in relation to the cost of living. In the past 16 months, inflation has risen sharply, and for people who are already stretched thin, times are tough. Many educators are leaving the profession despite loving the work to make a livable wage.
There are some great education bills being introduced this year in the Legislature, and I believe that if we are to do what is best for West Virginia, we must think about our schools. We have so many talented young people who want to teach, but we need to keep these talented educators in our state.
Inflation in our nation has reached a level unlike what we’ve experienced in our lifetime and the current cost of living increase with the 5% raise that has been proposed by the governor doesn’t do enough to solve the problem. This raise equates to around $1,500 for the year before taxes. According to USAFacts.org, the average teacher salaries in border states for 2021 were: $61,000 in Ohio, $54,000 in Kentucky, $71,000 in Pennsylvania, $59,000 in Virginia, and $74,000 in Maryland. West Virginia’s average salary was $50,000.
I strongly urge the Legislature to bet big on our state and support educators. Our future is our kids. To get there, we need certified teachers filling those nearly 2,000 vacant positions. Raising wages will benefit our state. It’s a bet worth making.
Brian Casto is a Huntington resident who teaches at Milton Middle School. He was the 2022 West Virginia Teacher of the Year.
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