Increase Teacher Pay in Virginia to Meet Legislated Minimum Standard of National Average Compensation

by James C. Sherlock

We have major teacher shortages in Virginia, and we need to address them to ensure not only quantity but quality.

To do that we need to fund our legislated state goals of competitive teacher compensation.

Code of Virginia § 22.1-289.1. Teacher compensation; biennial review required.

It is a goal of the Commonwealth that its public school teachers be compensated at a rate that is competitive in order to attract and keep highly qualified teachers.

As used in this section, “competitive” means, at a minimum, at or above the national average teacher salary.

The Department of Education shall conduct a biennial review of the compensation of teachers and shall consider the Commonwealth’s compensation for teachers relative to the national average teacher salary. The results of these reviews shall be reported to the Governor, the General Assembly, and the Board of Education by June 1 of each odd-numbered year.

That should certainly be the goal, but we need to fund it. Carefully.

Some divisions already meet those minimum standards.

Many can’t afford to do so.

Calculate the cost. I suggest that the governor direct the Department of Education to report what would have been the total annual costs in each division and statewide over each of the past two years to meet the goal.

Compute teacher compensation at the national average adjusted for local costs of living in each of Virginia’s school divisions.

Then the government can assess potential ways to fund the differences in each school division as annual state bonuses. With safeguards to prevent gaming the system.

The objective would be to transfer each May the adjusted bonus pools to each school division not compensating at the target levels. The money would be distributed to classroom teachers only.

The local distributions could be scaled relative to each teacher’s annual compensation or as a fixed sum for each teacher at local option.

Safeguards. There are several considerations built into this approach in an attempt to ensure that the bonuses go to teachers in the poorer school divisions which cannot afford to pay more.

Bonuses would be paid to teachers only. That is where the key shortages and declining experience are, and that is where the money should go. The bonus approach will sustain pressure on school divisions to pay all of their employees as much as they can afford.

Bonuses will not count towards retirement. That also will pressure local divisions to increase annual compensation.

To address potential gaming of the system, the state can review divisional all-employee pay scale data for balance and penalize any systematic underpayment of teachers relative to other employees.

Funding. Once the baseline costs are known, alternative funding mechanisms for the bonus pool can be examined.

A statewide increment on property taxes should be considered. That would ensure that the tax to fund the pool is not regressive and not subject to the ebbs and flows of general fund revenue.

Bottom line. This is a recommendation from a man who has no children or grandchildren in Virginia public schools but who would support a small increase in my property taxes to maintain quality public schools. And a man who certainly has objections to how some of Virginia’s schools are run.

But we have to do the basic blocking and tackling to ensure good schools. Paying teachers a competitive compensation is part of that.

There will certainly be other ideas.

But the issue of teacher pay needs to be engaged with a statewide solution. Some divisions simply lack the resources to accomplish it.

The children are the future of the Commonwealth and the nation and need the best teachers we can afford.