I have been a proud West Virginia educator for 15 years, and I am the daughter and the granddaughter of West Virginia teachers. I was the 2016 Berkeley County Teacher of the Year and, in 2015, received an Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award. It is safe to say I have devoted most of my life to education in West Virginia.
In 2015, my colleague Karla Hilliard and I took on the daunting task of rebuilding the West Virginia Council of Teachers of English, an organization that had been defunct in our state for over 20 years. And I took this on in addition to teaching Advanced Placement classes, advising our Diversity Club, coordinating the homecoming parade and being a mother of three and a wife, because I believe in West Virginia and in supporting West Virginia’s teachers. I believe in public education, and everything it stands for.
West Virginia public education is under attack. We have over 700 teaching vacancies across West Virginia, but instead of working to figure out how to fill those positions and retain the brilliant and hard-working teachers in the state, lawmakers are allowing changes to PEIA to create skyrocketing premiums and deductibles. The proposed 1 percent pay raise would not have combated new PEIA changes, and some teachers in this state would actually face a pay cut.
While PEIA is the primary concern facing most public employees and educators, there is upcoming legislation that proposes funneling tax money away from public education to school-choice programs, vouchers and private schools that is almost as concerning.
I live in a place where I could drive 20 minutes to Washington County, Maryland or Loudoun County, Virginia, and make $20,000 to $25,000 more than I’m making now. But I haven’t, because I still believe in West Virginia. I believe in public education, and I believe that West Virginia’s schools deserve public educators who are smart and good at what they do.
I believe our students need teachers like me and all the other incredible teachers across this state who don’t just go to work but who go to their schools to change the lives of our young people because they believe in it. They take second jobs waiting tables, at Walmart, selling Mary Kay — so they can keep teaching here in West Virginia.
But enough is enough. We can’t keep making miracles happen without the support or the pay we need to do this job. Attracting the kind of educators our students deserve to fill those 700 vacancies will never happen if PEIA is not fixed. And those great teachers all over West Virginia who simply cannot keep doing the job they love in this place they love because they can’t pay their bills? They’re going to leave.
That is on lawmakers.
Because it’s the Legislature who stopped believing in West Virginia public education and in our young people. It’s the Legislature who have allowed it to get to this point.
So please, before it’s unfixable, fix PEIA. Stop trying to take money from public schools; instead, figure out how to better support our existing schools and programs.
And start believing in West Virginia teachers again. We have never stopped believing in ourselves or the important work that we are doing. We believe that West Virginia deserves quality educators, and lawmakers should, too.