Bills advance to increase state's teacher pool
By The Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Lawmakers are hoping to ease the certification process for some new teachers in an effort to curb the growing shortage of educators in the state.
The House of Delegates passed two bills Monday that would create new alternative paths to certification, sending them to the Senate for consideration.
Both bills would provide college graduates, who did not earn a teaching degree, with intensive support and mentoring as they work toward a teaching certificate. Schools can hire these teachers in training if no qualified, fully certified teachers apply for openings.
The proposed programs would not require college graduates with expertise in other subjects like chemistry or a foreign language to return to school -- instead they would earn on the job experience, said Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, who sponsored the bills.
Both bills were recommended by an interim study committee to help generate more teachers in critical areas like math, science and special education. Perry hopes the programs could provide 50 new teachers in the next five years, he said.
West Virginia is short about 1,700 teachers based on the number teaching outside their subject area and the number of long-term substitutes. Schools also hired 175 alternative certification teachers this fall, according to the West Virginia Department of Education.
Teachers call the effort to expand certification options a Band-Aid. They say the real reason behind the shortage is the low pay compared to neighboring states and other industries.
Legislators provided teachers a salary increase last year. Despite the pay bump, the starting $30,000 salary for new teachers turns many college students away from the profession, said Josh Sword, political director of the American Federation of Teachers, which represents 15,000 public teachers plus school service personnel in West Virginia.
Other professions with similar levels of training and education offer much higher pay. College students with good math or science skills could seek jobs in finance or engineering, earning two or three times what a teacher would earn, he said.
"We're supportive of it because it doesn't do any harm," Sword said of the bills. "We're just nibbling at the edges here. The real issue is being able to attract these folks with a competitive salary."
No bills that would increase pay for teachers have been filed this year and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin did not provide for a pay increase in his proposed budget.
West Virginians can't afford to pay more in income or property taxes to pay higher teacher salaries. Money for pay increases could be available in the next few years as state tax revenue comes in from the development and expansion of Marcellus Shale drilling, said Delegate Walter Duke, R-Berkeley.
Border counties like Berkeley struggle to attract teachers as schools in neighboring Virginia and Maryland can pay an extra $15,000 a year, he said.
"We can't match, we don't have enough money to match. But you can do it so you get closer," Duke said.