Improving Education in W.Va. "You Get What You Pay For"

Feb 25, 2014

Teacher Edward Evans gives a lesson on electricity during class at Mt. View Middle in McDowell County.
Credit Jessica Lilly

The legislative session last year is often referred to as the "year of education reform" as lawmakers looked for ways to improve education quality.

West Virginia is ranked 48th in teacher pay and right around the middle of the road compared to other states for cost of living. Educators say there is a connection to quality.

Although West Virginia teachers get a 1.5 percent pay increase each year until they reach 35 years, teacher salaries are among the lowest paid in the nation.

For veteran teacher Billie Wood, she's stays because it's home. She’s taught for 38 years in Mercer County. Wood was disappointed when her daughter decided to take the higher salary in Northern Virginia.

“I am very happy for her," Wood said, "I just wish she could be closer to home and she loves this area and it’s a real shame that she had to go away from her home and her family in order to get a job. “

Money talks and West Virginia is surrounded by states that pay teachers more.The West Virginia Education Association says the average pay for teachers in the state ranks 48th.

Just across the Mercer and McDowell borders in counties like Giles, Buchannon and Tazewell, Virginia teachers make an average of $5,000 to $6,000 more. In Northern Virginia the difference can be as high as $12,000 annually.

The largest difference is in bordering Maryland where teachers can make as much $18,000 dollars more per year.

"You get what you pay for," Wood said. "Believe me I haven’t done this for the money. I think if you pay for good quality teachers you’re going to get good quality teachers.”

McDowell’s school system was recently turned back over to the county after being under state control for more than 10 years.

Mr. Edward Evans, is a decorated science teacher at Mt. View Middle School in McDowell County.

The county deals with some of the toughest statistics in the country like the lowest life expectancy for men, and the second lowest life expectancy for women

"We’re looked down on because of poverty," Evans said. "Our homes are substandard. There’s no activities for the kids. Our teenage pregnancy rate is outrageous. Our smoking rate is crazy. We have more overdoses for drugs here than anywhere else in the state."

"You look at the Kids Count data and you think our kids don’t count but I’m here to tell you they do," Evans says as he fights back tears. "Our kids do count, more than anybody else’s.”

Governor Tomblins’state of the state address promised a two percent pay raise for West Virginia teachers.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee last week voted to remove language from a bill increasing teachers’ salaries by $1,000 across the board. Senate Education Committee Chair Robert Plymale proposed the increased pay in Senate bill 391.

While the across the board raise was intended to narrow the gap between new and veteran teachers but it was still far from border county salaries, the finance committee save the state $5 million dollars by eliminating the increase.