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Education leaders see positives in governor’s proposals

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By Jeff Jenkins, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice promised to raise pay for teachers, put more money toward their health insurance and allow them to bank sick days in his State of the State Address Wednesday night.

Justice’s plan includes a five percent raise for teachers and $150 million funding for PEIA. American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia President Fred Albert said what Justice said should leave classroom teachers hopeful.

 “I think they would be happy. As a classroom teacher myself it makes me happy to know that the work we did last spring really got noticed and it hasn’t gone away,” Albert said.

Teachers and school service personnel brought their concerns to the state capitol last year as part of an historic nine-day work stoppage.

“I’m glad we’re continuing the investment,” West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said. “We can’t stop there. We have to make it the cornerstone, as he said, public education.”

Justice also proposed paying teachers more for hard-to-fill positions like math and science. Lee said he would have to see more details on the proposal. Lee did like what Justice said about returning to a former program that allowed teachers to bank sick days to be converted at retirement.

 “That is huge for those who aren’t able to do that now. It is an incentive. It is an incentive to keep them in the classroom more,” he said.

Lawmakers made a change in the early 2000’s that no longer allowed newly hired teachers to save the days for insurance coverage after retiring. Teachers hired in the last 10-plus years haven’t been able to do so.

Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, a school principal, said it was good to hear the governor spend a lot of his speech on education issues.

“Improving education in the state is one of those things that makes us a better place to live, work and raise a family,” Dean said.

Lee said, as it is with each legislative session, the key will be working through the details toward a final product.

“There are 59 more days to go and the proof is going to be in the pudding and the proof is going to be what is able to pass the House and the Senate. This is the beginning of the game, we have four quarters ahead of us and it’s going to be a long game,” Lee said.

Other education initiatives announced by Justice Wednesday included:

–Promise Scholarship for vocational education students

–$5 million to expand the Community in Schools program