HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – Helen Pryor has been teaching for 16 years. She’s a Norfolk elementary teacher and president of the Education Association in the school district.
Pryor said the profession doesn’t always come with a livable wage that reflects the challenges of the job. Low pay is just one of the problems adding to the teacher shortage across the board.
“People that have left our district, they don’t leave angry. They leave hurt,” said Pryor. “They want to stay; they want to do the job. They love the people they work with. They love the students they work with, but they cannot pay their bills.”
Teachers make an average state salary of $58,000 a year. Several teachers told WTVR reporter Antoinette DelBel that even with a 10% raise spread out over two years that the General Assembly passed last session, that isn’t enough to keep up with inflation.
Pryor fears the teacher shortage gap will grow even more if action is not taken now to level the playing field.
“There's such a shortage, and it comes down to respect. The way to respect people for the work that they do so well and so often and so hard is to pay them properly,” Pryor said. “And in the state of Virginia, that is not happening.”
Some local lawmakers are looking to change that and close the shortage gap.
Among several bills they’re proposing, one includes paying public school teachers at or above the national average of $69,000 a year.
Chad Stewart, a policy analyst with the Virginia Education Association (VEA), said a pay bump will help keep and attract teachers. But to get to the national average salary, lawmakers would need to budget an 11% total pay raise for the next school year.
“Virginia, just because we've been underfunding on education and teacher pay for so long, we're amongst the least competitive in the entire country when it comes to this area, so we have a long way to go,” said Stewart. “Getting to the national average is certainly a first step, but in a relatively rich and high cost of living state like Virginia, that should just be the bare minimum of what we're trying to get towards.”
Meantime, Gov. Glenn Youngkin is proposing $100 million dollars in the budget for retention and performance bonuses.
A spokesperson for the governor said, “For this year's budget, approximately $100 million is allocated in the budget for retention bonuses for instructional and support positions equal to 1.0% of the staff's salary and a performance pay bonus for teachers who exhibit superior performance and demonstrate the growth and achievement of their students.”
Pryor said, however, that’s not enough to make the state more competitive and will only widen the gap.
“Bonuses are not incentives. They are band-aids,” she said. “These incentives that are being put forward with the bonuses and these small amounts, they are a temporary solution to a problem that is going to continue to grow.”
Other lawmakers are proposing training and mentorship programs to help attract new, qualified teachers.