EDITORIAL: W.Va. Legislature is failing state’s teachers


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State leaders have failed to implement an effective pay increase and to improve Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) premiums for West Virginia state employees, including public school teachers, which has led to several strikes and protests across the state.

The state Senate approved a 1 percent pay increase to state employees over the next year last Friday, with an additional 1 percent increase for each of the next four years. The West Virginia House of Delegates Finance Committee amended the bill Wednesday, offering teachers a 2 percent pay increase the first year, with an additional 1 percent over the next three years.

Even with the pay raise, insurance premiums are likely to continue to increase, which, for some, will be larger than the 1 or 2 percent pay increase.

West Virginia teachers are some of the lowest paid teachers in the nation, and they want to be compensated for the degrees they hold and the amount of time, money and effort they put into the job. Teachers put in hours of unpaid work creating lesson plans, grading papers and attending trainings, yet West Virginia continues to cut funding for PEIA and is offering a small pay increase.

How do we expect to keep good, qualified teachers in this state when the government doesn’t offer a competitive salary and benefits?

If public employees don’t see a change in their PEIA benefits, some might be forced to seek employment in surrounding states that offer better benefits and higher pay, including Huntington High School counselor Melanie Pinkerman.

“I love our kids,” Pinkerman said to The Herald-Dispatch. “I don’t even want to really leave, but if things keep getting worse in this area, I’m going to have to look at Kentucky and Ohio as options.”

We rely on teachers to guide our children and young adults to a productive path in society, so we cannot expect teachers to continue on this track of small increases in pay and increases in insurance premiums.

The Charleston Gazette-Mail reported that the state Senate voted against a proposed 3 percent pay increase, saying that it wasn’t doable in the current economic climate.

“I can’t believe people are insulted by something we’re trying so hard to do,” said Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Some senators, however, said the raise is inadequate and that teachers deserve more than what the state is offering.

“This issue is very simple: We can’t put qualified teachers in our classrooms, and retain teachers to educate our children, without having competitive salaries,” said Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “We can dig down and find a way to pay our teachers what they’re worth. We’ve got to step up and do the right thing.”

Along the way, almost every student has had a teacher who has inspired them, mentored them or supported them in some way that has permanently impacted their life, including our legislatures. So, why can’t our state fund the people who change lives daily?

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