Will the Governor’s pitch to boost teacher pay keep them in Virginia classrooms?

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. — In a series of his first budget amendments since he took office, Governor Ralph Northam is proposing to add $268.7 million in education spending. The change could be a big boost for teachers.

The Governor says $88 million of this new money would include a 2 percent raise in teacher salaries.

When the budget was approved in June, the Governor signed off on a 3 percent raise for educators. Starting on July 1, 2019, that would be bumped up to 5 percent if this budget amendment is approved by lawmakers.

Pay is an issue on the minds of many teachers, and advocates think this move is a step in the right direction.

“While cost of healthcare is rising, and cost of living is continually rising – teacher salaries in Virginia have literally been stagnant,” President of the Virginia Education Association Jim Livingston said.

Livingston says some young teachers were advised to not go into the field because of the high costs to get a degree, and the lack of pay to cover the college debt.

Virginia teachers made an estimated average of $51,049 in the 2016-2017 school year, compared to the national average $59,660 according to the National Education Association’s Rankings and Estimates Report published in April. The estimated average salary for Virginia teachers in the 2017-2018 school year is $51,265, compared to the national estimated average of $60,483. This ranks Virginia as the 34th in the nation for teacher pay.

Gov. Northam’s Communications Director Ofirah Yheskel says the proposed funding will be coming from revenue this year, which was “better than anticipated.” The administration is also “assuming conformity to the federal tax changes” which would bring in more tax dollars to the Commonwealth, as well as additional funds from online sales tax legislation, that still needs to be approved by lawmakers.

State revenue has grown by 4.5 percent since the beginning of this fiscal year, compared to the 1.5 percent estimate from the budget. Individual income tax collections are running 5.6 percent higher than last year when it was estimated in the budget to be 1.4 percent.

The Governor’s office also estimates an increase in proceeds from the Virginia Lottery, which goes to education spending through the Literary Fund. The proposed budget amendment would drop a one-time deposit of $80 million in it.

Since 1988, the Virginia Lottery has transferred more than $275 million in unclaimed prizes to the Literary Fund. By law, any unclaimed winnings are directed to that fund as well. Lottery officials say there were about $14 million in lottery prizes that winners didn’t pick up last year.

The proposed budget would also adjust funding to reflect increases in lottery proceeds, setting aside nearly $70 million to support schools with large groups of kids on the free lunch programs, after-school programs and specialized instruction.

State funding for these school programs will help free up local dollars to match the state’s contribution to increasing teacher pay, Livingston explained. How much the state pays varies according to how much each municipality can afford to pay its share.

Livingston says this is “part of the puzzle” to fix the teacher shortage, but there are a number of other issues facing teachers. For example, there’s been a budgetary cap in school spending on support staff members since the recession. Talking to teachers, Livingston says many are juggling multiple jobs to help students while supporting their own families.

“We have spent a decade underfunding public schools in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Livingston said.

In order to prepare students for competitive technology jobs, such as ones at companies like Amazon moving to Virginia, Livingston says the General Assembly needs to do more.

“They want quality public education, it’s time to pay for it,” he added.

The Chairman of Appropriations Del. Chris Jones (R – 76th District) said in a statement, “We appreciate the Governor’s proposal and will consider it when drafting our budget amendments. K-12 education has been a priority of House Republicans and we are glad to see the Governor building on the raises and over $1 billion in new funding for K-12 education provided in our budget last year. However, we have to remember this is just one piece of the broader package that we will consider as we put together our proposals.”

The Governor will be unveiling the rest of his amendments to the budget next Tuesday.

The entire education budget for the 2018-2020 is about $40 billion. The budget is done biannually and was just signed off by the Governor in June.

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