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Covering education's costs

August 16, 2005

Eastern Panhandle lawmakers who hoped to enact "locality pay" provisions to keep other states from hiring critical employees, including teachers, are running into some resistance. It's time to level with citizens about the cost of ensuring West Virginia's children get the best education possible.

Locality pay would be added to employees' salaries to help them cope with the higher cost of living in an area where some workers say they can make thousands more just by crossing the state line.

But at interim meetings of the Legislature held last week in Morgantown, lawmakers from more rural counties say they're having problems of their own - and want a share of any enhanced pay package for their own areas' needs.

Gov. Joe Manchin is considering one solution that would revise the popular PROMISE scholarship program so that it would pay for textbooks and fees as well as tuition. In exchange, teachers would pledge to go where needed for the following four years.

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For the southern coalfield counties, this would be a boon, but even if that legislation were enacted today, it would not solve the problem for a couple of years.

Nor does it address the problem of experienced teachers being hired away by more affluent counties in Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

We recommend that Gov. Manchin level with the citizens of West Virginia about the future and the fact that without an educated workforce, much of the state will remain in poverty.

That means that while it might be the politically popular thing to eliminate the tax on food, it could deprive the state of the funds it needs to provide for students' educational nourishment.

Those who have called for such a reduction say it will stimulate the economy, producing more revenue. Maybe so, but that will take a while, and that money is needed now.

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