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The issue of teachers' pay

August 25, 2005

Armed with the statistic that the average salary of the state's teachers now ranks 47th out of the 50 states, the West Virginia Education Association this week said it will push for 15 percent raises during a special legislative session in September.

There is already talk of a teacher strike similar to the one that closed schools for 11 days in 1990.

That's a bad idea. But lawmakers have to take this problem seriously, unless they want to see more teachers "vote with their feet" and leave the state.

According to the Charleston, W.Va., bureau of The Associated Press (AP), teachers can expect better pay in all of the neighboring states.

Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and Kentucky are all ranked higher in terms of average pay.

When Eastern Panhandle legislators proposed "locality pay" to compensate teachers there for the higher costs of living and to keep them from being lured across state lines, lawmakers in the coalfield counties said their areas needed help as well. For the salaries now being offered, they said, teachers just don't want to locate in rural, poverty-stricken areas of the state.

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Despite a surplus this year, West Virginia's economy isn't a world-beater, yet. AP reported that in July, more than half the state's counties lost jobs, bringing the statewide jobless rate to 5.2 percent.

In 2002, the West Virginia Roundtable, a combination of gubernatorial appointees and representatives of private business, released "A Vision Shared," a plan for the state's future.

No. 1 on its list was improving the state's "intellectual infrastructure." Without a stronger commitment to education, the group said, the state will not make progress. Now is the time to commit to education, by paying teachers wages that will keep them concentrating on the state's students, instead of looking for opportunities to leave them behind.

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