As the Virginia legislature wrangles over the question of when children should return to in-person instruction and parents and students do their best with virtual learning, I think this is the right time to raise the issue of teacher pay. Although I am not a teacher, I did study to become a teacher, completed my student teaching and gained the necessary certification required by Virginia. I thought teaching would be the perfect job, allowing me to leave my civil service position and give me more time with my newborn son. That vision quickly changed as I began to actually look for a teaching position and realized the pay difference between the two careers. I could not think about being a teacher and meeting my expenses; I returned to my government job.
That experience did, however, make me realize the scope of time, effort and commitment it takes to be a teacher -- an experience parents must certainly understand given the circumstances of the pandemic and its effect on educating our children. According to the Virginia Department of Education, the commonwealth ranks 32nd in the nation for teacher pay; number-one ranked New York State pays its teachers about $33,000/year more. Salaries in Virginia also vary from county to county -- the average pay in Prince William County compared to Fauquier is about $14,000 more per year. This discrepancy leads many teachers in the more rural counties to leave for higher salaries in the wealthier counties after a couple of years. Who could blame them?
Fauquier County spends 60% of its budget on schools. The 2020 estimate per student cost was $13,907, of which 64% comes from local funding -- nearly all provided by local property taxes. So … every time the school board asks the board of supervisors for additional funding for teacher salaries, some other needed and important program -- i.e. police, fire, etc., -- would have to be shorted. Robbing Peter to pay Paul is never a good idea in any circumstance.
In the 2020 legislative session, Sen. Jill Vogel introduced a bill to provide a 5% raise for teachers over each of the next two years. That proposal, however, was watered down in the final budget and resulted in a 4% raise over the next two years. A portion of the raises will need to be funded by the Fauquier County government and it doesn't address the salary gap between counties, especially between contiguous counties.
In the current crazy world in which we are all living, it may seem unreasonable to some to ask for teachers’ salaries to be increased. My thought is that it is exactly the reason for this to be asked now, particularly given the importance of the job our teachers do (and we expect them to do – be honest with yourself about that part).
The pandemic has highlighted the extremely valuable role that teachers play in our society and we should compensate them accordingly.
As a final personal note on this topic, I’d like to give a shout out to all the terrific Fauquier County teachers who provided a good education for my son. He was fully prepared for college studies and was even able to save on some college tuition by completing his studies in less than four years (Thank you AP course teachers!).