Unions say certification bill doesn’t answer issue of competitive pay for teachers

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Unions say certification bill doesn’t answer issue of competitive pay for teachers
By Samuel Speciale, Education reporter  
While Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s signing of the alternative teacher certification bill last week has been lauded for providing a way to fill classroom vacancies, union representatives say it doesn’t address the real issue of teachers leaving West Virginia for higher-paying jobs in neighboring states.

“Until we start addressing other things that prevent us from attracting teachers to West Virginia, this is nothing more than a Band-Aid solution,” said Christine Campbell, state president of the American Federation of Teachers.

The bill, which will go into effect on July 1, allows recent college graduates and other professionals from non-education backgrounds to teach critical-need classes in low-performing schools after passing a certification test in the subject they’ll teach. It also will allow nonprofit education organizations like Teach for America to operate in West Virginia for the first time.

The purpose of the bill is to fill some of the 700 teacher vacancies in West Virginia, which has required another 300 teachers to teach out of field in subjects they aren’t trained in.

Vacancies in West Virginia, especially in poor rural schools, have been a consistent problem for years, leading some to push for better pay to attract and retain quality teachers while others call for less regulation.

“It’s like putting a Band-Aid over a hemorrhage,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association.

For both union leaders, the bill is a vast improvement over the version introduced by Delegate Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia, at the start of the 2015 Legislative session. Teachers, education officials and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle argued the bill in its original form would have allowed county school boards to hire an uncertified candidate over a qualified teacher.

That, and many other issues, were worked out during the amendment process, and while union leaders still aren’t satisfied, they say they can work with the bill.

“It’s much better,” Campbell said. “Those amendments, to me, ensure we are maintaining a standard of quality.”

In addition to limiting non-education professionals to teaching only in critical need areas, the bill also requires candidates to commit to professional development in areas like classroom management and curriculum development.

Supporters of alternative certification say the bill creates new opportunities by bringing untapped talent into the classroom.

“This will go a long way in addressing the ongoing challenges of filling the vast number of teaching vacancies across West Virginia,” Pasdon said Friday in a statement. “Most importantly, this will directly benefit the 280,000 children depending on us to make the best choices for them, so they can have a strong educational foundation to prepare them for the future.”

Teachers union leaders, however, see the bill as a slight to their profession.

“The most important factor in a student’s education is having a high quality teacher in front of them,” Lee said. “Reducing standards and qualifications for teachers is not the solution.”

When asked if allowing alternatively certified teachers into West Virginia’s classrooms will benefit the state, its students and its teachers, Campbell only said the bill is good for counties that have a hard time filling vacancies.

“Do we want to keep the best people here, or do we just want to stick someone in the classroom,” Campbell went on to say. “That’s something the Legislature needs to seriously consider and address.”

For at least five years, teachers unions have lobbied for increased salaries that would incrementally raise pay $10,000 over a period of four to five years.

The average salary for first-year teachers in West Virginia is about $33,000, which is about $1,000 to $11,000 less than average first-year salaries in neighboring states.