Following a grueling strike that led to a statewide public school shutdown that lasted nearly two weeks, the West Virginia Senate approved a five percent pay raise for the state’s teachers and school personnel this week. News of the pay raise was heartening not only to the teachers but to the parents of children held out of school. Though not all parents supported the strike, many did and for fairly practical reasons, including that West Virginia’s low teacher wages were incentivizing career educators to leave the state.
Before the strike began, teachers in West Virginia were paid $45,000 dollars a year. That puts them at 48th out of 50 states in terms of teacher pay. Just across state lines, in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Kentucky, teachers were paid about $10,000 dollars more. Teachers initially went on strike to fight a proposal that sought to give them a two-percent raise next year and then a one-percent raise for the two following years. Such a small raise, the teachers argued, wouldn’t cover the rising costs of healthcare premiums, cost-of-living, and a new tax on payroll deductions.
Fatherly talked to Kathy Parker, West Virginia’s Parent Teacher Association President, about how she and her organization felt about the strike and the future of teachers across the country.
The West Virginia PTA was supportive of the strike and got teachers’ backs in a big way. Why?
We started this out being 48th in the country for pay for teachers. Our kids deserve better than that. The surrounding states are Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, Virginia, Maryland. Teachers can go across the state lines and get a $10,000 higher salary. It takes a special teacher to stay in the state and teach our kids. We have a lot of great teachers.
West Virginia PTA supports the need for better pay for our teachers. Our students deserve to have highly qualified teachers who feel valued and appreciated in our classrooms. We can’t continue to expect teachers to give more without proper compensation. The thousand dollar across the board raise that they received five years ago … that was five years ago.
Was the problem here that teachers weren’t being fairly compensated for their work or was it something more complicated than that?
I don’t think even the pay raise was what started it. I think it was the changes to Personal Injuries Assessment Board of state employee insurance programs. Not only were there going to be changes to the teacher’s coverage, but also to their premiums. Their premiums were going to increase. Without a pay raise, that would have been a decrease in compensation, which was ridiculous.
Supporting the teachers was obviously important for your organization, but there must have been a lot of concern for the kids.
I know that everybody was concerned for the length of time that children have been out of school. I also know that a lot of local communities have been providing meals for children who look to schools as possibly their only meal of the day.
There’s ostensibly some resolution here. The teachers got a raise. I’m curious, what do you think the kids get?
A great civics lesson. Seeing their teachers out with signs at the side of the road or in front of their schools, saying, “We deserve better.” This is a peaceful demonstration about how to go about making our lives better.
Most of our teachers have kids as well. It’s not just about teachers. It’s about their families. I know a lot of kids went to the capitol with their teacher parents. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of talk about it when they get back in school.
It appears that the work stoppage may have also been a sign for teachers in the state of Oklahoma, as well.
I’ve been talking to the state PTA president there. She’s been keeping up with what’s going on in West Virginia. I don’t want to overspeak, but maybe this is a tipping point, a crossroads if you will. Teachers have seen what’s going on in West Virginia and can see teachers being united and working toward a goal and not accepting anything less.
What are the practical considerations as kids head back to school?
Each county sets its own calendar. It isn’t set by the state. I know some school systems are talking about going through Spring Break now, especially to get seniors as much time in as they can, because graduation has been set for months. Of course, we’ll be going into June to finish up to get the 180 days out.