Va. teachers focus on pay raise, other priorities ahead of upcoming school year

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. – While your kids are getting ready to go back to school, so are their teachers. One big topic on their minds is their paycheck.

“We cannot only build a better pipeline for teachers but retain them in the classroom as well,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane said.

Hundreds of teachers were getting ready for the school year during the Education Equity Summer Institute held in Richmond. Dr. Lane was one of the keynote speakers, focusing on achievement gaps and equity issues facing students across the Commonwealth.

He also had conversations with Gov. Ralph Northam about educational priorities.

“In talking to the governor, we know that it’s one of the things that he’s focused on is continuing to increase teacher pay,” Dr. Lane said. 

When Gov. Northam signed the budget in May he bumped up the state share in teacher pay, meaning teachers will get a 3 percent raise starting in July 2019. How much the state pays varies according to how much each municipality can afford to pay its share.

“Putting 3 percent in the second year of [the two year budget] is a huge step in the right direction towards giving my teachers what they need,” Dr. Lane said.

According to data from the National Education Association, Virginia teachers were paid around $50,834 from 2016-2017. That’s about 8,000 less than the national average of $58,353.

Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg is a teacher from Henrico County. He says the 3 percent increase in pay “is a start” but “it’s not enough.”

The pay raise is a long time coming.

“You might start off at a comparable pay, but over the past decade teachers haven’t been getting pay raises year by year,” he added.

Another budgetary issue Del. VanValkenburg sees in the classroom is a CAP on support staff members, like nurses and mental health counselors, approved during the recession. Del. VanValkenburg has brought it up a number of times during meetings with the House Select Committee on School Safety, which was formed following the deadly high school shooting in Parkland, Fl.  There were also efforts during this past session to create legislation to get rid of it.

“It puts an increased burden on teachers too. Teachers are now having to do things that would have been handled by support staff,” he added. “You see cases loads of children that are unsustainable. So, that means they’re not getting the services they need and you’re feeling that in your class.”

Changes were also approved by the General Assembly for teacher certifications, making it easier for people who are moving to the Commonwealth to transfer their license into Virginia more easily. Dr. Lanes says they also “opened up flexibility” for creating more four-year teaching programs, so there “are undergraduates earning teaching degrees, they’re not always required to get a masters degree in order to teach.”  

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