Gov. Jim Justice, in his State of the State address last week, requested a “1 percent” across-the-board pay increase for West Virginia teachers in this year’s legislative session, with further 1 percent increases in each of the next four years.
“That’s it?” has essentially been the response of teachers, at least as indicated by a rally Monday in the state Capitol. About 200 people attended the West Virginia Education Association union rally, including teachers and lawmakers.
The audience, where the signs included ones saying “1 percent is not enough! We deserve competitive pay!” and “We need more than a 1 percent raise. We deserve more!!,” booed when WVEA President Dale Lee mentioned Justice’s proposal.
“I don’t have to tell you that’s inadequate,” Lee said.
Justice’s press office didn’t respond to a call for comment Monday. According to a state budget briefing and WVEA Executive Director David Haney, what Justice meant by a 1 percent raise was giving teachers $404 atop the annual increment increase many receive for providing an additional year of service.
The governor failed in last year’s session, when he was a registered Democrat, to persuade the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass an $808 raise for teachers.
Justice, who has since returned to the Republican Party, coupled his proposal for a 1 percent raise last week with a proposal for no new tax increases. Furthermore, his speech used a new acronym, JCTW, for “Just Cut Taxes and Win,” and he backed a seven-year, $30 million-a-year phase-out of personal property taxes on industrial inventory, machinery and equipment.
Lee noted that, in 2014, the Legislature (then controlled by Democrats) passed a law that included this language: “It is the goal of the Legislature to increase the state minimum salary for teachers with zero years of experience and an A.B. (bachelor’s) degree, including the equity supplement, to at least $43,000 by fiscal year 2019.”
Fiscal year 2019 begins July 1. The state minimum salary plus equity supplement for a teacher described by that law is currently about $33,000, according to state Department of Education data, although county boards of education may choose to add atop the state figure if they have funds available.
The National Education Association, of which the WVEA is part, maintains teacher pay rankings from state to state. The NEA’s rankings show West Virginia was 48th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C., in average teacher pay in 2017.
And in recent years, Mountain State teachers have seen cuts to their Public Employees Insurance Agency health insurance benefits.
Amanda Rehe, a fifth-grade teacher in Preston County, said she came to the Capitol on Monday over concerns regarding multiple education issues.
“The salary is a big issue, obviously,” Rehe said. “We’re not getting paid enough to really survive. PEIA is an issue, because we have extremely high-stress jobs but we can’t afford the health insurance to keep coming to work.”
“We’re asking that they look at funding PEIA; it’s been a broken system for a long time,” said Cassandra Sisler, a fourth-grade teacher who heads Preston’s branch of the WVEA. The Legislature’s past funding for PEIA hasn’t been sufficient to stop cuts.
“They are passing the costs onto us,” Sisler said. She said teachers can drive to neighboring states and make significantly more a year.
Christine Campbell, president of the West Virginia arm of the separate American Federation of Teachers school employees union, said her understanding is that the proposed 1 percent raise would be a more straightforward 1 percent increase, meaning it would equal more for a teacher the higher that teacher’s current salary is, and vice versa. She, like the WVEA officials, said the actual budget bill has not been revealed.
Campbell said that, regardless of how the calculation works, “based on the feedback from the educators, it’s starting [the pay increase conversation] too low.” She, like Lee, said the only-1-percent-increase discussion comes alongside multiple other issues, including reduced PEIA benefits.
“How are all of these things actually going to keep people in West Virginia?” she said.