May 8, 2019
4 Ways to Celebrate Teachers Beyond Appreciation Week – With Fair Compensation and Sufficient Support
Monday marked the beginning of teacher appreciation week. Teachers certainly deserve the gestures of appreciation they will receive this week in the form of gift cards, flowers, and discounts at the local fast food joint. However, events across the nation make it clear that teachers do not feel valued year-round, especially by our elected officials, which leads to increased teacher turnover and dissuades people from joining the profession all together. As we take time this week to specifically acknowledge the dedication and important contributions of Virginia teachers, let’s also call on state and local leaders to give our hardworking teachers the appreciation they deserve. They can start by approving budgets and passing policies that address the top concerns teachers have identified are needed to keep and attract teachers in the field.
Here are some ways state and local leaders can show appreciation for teachers:
1. Move Virginia up from the bottom tier of states by offering competitive pay
A report released recently by the Economic Policy Institute shows that Virginia offers some of the least competitive salaries in the country. We should not penalize the profession that is responsible for teaching the next generation of medical professionals, caretakers, entrepreneurs, and teachers. Yet, Virginia teachers earn 31% less than comparable college-educated workers in Virginia. This wage penalty is third worst in the country. Higher salaries are crucial for keeping teachers in the profession. A 2018 survey found three out of four teachers identify a higher salary as the most important issue for teacher retention.
2. Provide more support in the classroom by adequately funding support staff
Teachers identify lack of resources and support services for students as a major concern. We can’t expect teachers to be everything and everyone to our students. Support staff in Virginia schools care for the physical and mental health of students, help maximize student success, get students to and from school safely, and ensure that schools are safe and clean. Therefore, having adequate support for students would go a long way to supporting our teachers. This is a growing challenge in Virginia where support staffing is down more than 2,300 positions while enrollment has grown by more than 55,000 students. State funding has played a key role in having less support staff. Starting in 2009, the state capped support for certain support positions to save money during and after the recession. Lawmakers have left this cap in place and the state currently only funds 40% of support positions in Virginia’s schools.
3. Direct resources to hard-to-staff schools to improve school funding equity
Schools that lack resources and do not receive necessary assistance from the state are less able to provide the pay and supports that attract and retain teachers. It is no wonder then that the vast majority of teachers believe inequity of school funding is a big problem and that more resources should be directed to hard-to-staff schools. Teachers also identify financial incentives for teachers serving hard-to-staff schools as one of the most effective recruitment strategies. Meanwhile, Virginia has received an “F” on a national report for the fairness of our funding distribution – spending more in our schools with low poverty than in schools with the highest child poverty rates. By strengthening Virginia’s At-Risk Add-on program that directs resources to high-poverty schools, state leaders can address this inequity and provide resources for teacher recruitment and pay incentives.
4. Ensure a safe learning environment for teachers and kids by modernizing facilities
Everyone deserves to work in a clean and safe environment. Yet the vast majority of teachers identify that they do not have access to properly maintained facilities, and the response is even higher for teachers who teach mostly students of color. Nevertheless, the state has reduced funding to schools for construction and maintenance by eliminating funding for the School Construction Grant program. Restoring these funds and investing in schools would make a big difference in the daily lives of our students and teachers.
Virginia cannot expect to attract and retain high-quality teachers if it does not begin to address some of their biggest concerns, and showing appreciation one week out of the year is not enough. It will take transformative change at the state level to make sure Virginia’s teachers and students are afforded the benefits of a high-quality public education system. The future of the commonwealth depends on it.