Teachers at low performing schools in West Virginia are set to receive a pay raise after the state Senate approved a House bill on Wednesday.
The bill will annually provide $2,000 to teachers at “persistently low performing schools,” which are those defined by the state Department of Education as being the lowest 20 percent of schools in the state in three-year aggregate math and reading scores.
Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, who serves as Finance Committee chairman, dubbed the legislation a teacher pay raise bill during Wednesday’s floor discussion.
Although Senate Minority Leader Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, praised the legislation, he called for raises to all teachers in West Virginia.
Shortly after the initial teacher pay raise bill was approved by the Senate, Kessler and Senate Minority Whip John Unger, D-Berkeley, attempted to attach an amendment to a public school finance bill, which would have provided a similar $2,000 salary increase. The salary increase would have been effective July 1.
Unger said the amendment was an opportunity to provide a modest increase to teachers.
“We need to make sure that we have qualified, certified teachers in the classroom,” Unger said. “We need to start treating our teachers as professionals by compensating them accordingly and getting out of their way and letting them teach.”
“This legislative session has been consumed with teacher-bashing issues like charter schools, the repeal of Common Core, and alternative certification,” Kessler said. “How can we expect to attract and retain quality educators if we refuse to pay them competitively?”
Several Republicans expressed a desire to support the amendment but said budgetary constraints made it impossible to provide such raises.
“It’s hard to argue against the amendment,” Hall said. But he noted that the amendment could only be afforded if particular tax legislation, such as a tobacco tax increase, were signed into law. Without that guarantee, Hall said he could not support the amendment.
“This bill pains me,” said Sen. Greg Boso, R-Nicholas.
Boso said the Nicholas County Commission is already faced with a $1.4 million budget shortfall as a result of a loss in coal severance taxes.
“As a result of that, the school board of education relies on what the county takes in,” he said. They have to face dealing with budget cuts as well. I can’t in good conscience vote to give teachers raises when our counties don’t have it in their coffers.”
Calling the amendment well intentioned, Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, said ultimately he couldn’t support it because it would be too risky, given the uncertainty of the budget.
Hall concurred with Walters before the bill amendment was voted down 15-18, along party lines. Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, was absent.
Despite the attempt by Kessler and Unger, teachers at low performing schools will still be provided $2,000 increases each year, following the passage of House Bill 2381, which will head back to the House before sending it to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin.