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July 7, 2016

Low Revenues Could Mean Virginia Falls Further Behind on Teacher Pay

Virginia’s 2016 budget year has come to a close, and we could find out as early as tomorrow if $350 million in key public investments approved by Virginia lawmakers last legislative session will have to be abandoned, including a much-needed pay bump for Virginia teachers. Eliminating the salary increase would lower the state’s per-pupil investment in education at a time when lawmakers just started to round the corner in school support after years of cuts.

If actual state revenues for the fiscal year that ended June 30 are one percent or more below the projected forecast, then the investments that lawmakers made contingent upon hitting the revenue target will be cut. These investments include a two percent raise for teachers and school staff, a three percent pay raise for state employees, and compensation for law enforcement, court clerks, and constitutional officers. It also means that the governor is required by law to re-forecast revenues for the current budget and the upcoming budget.

It’s a real possibility that we won’t make that one percent threshold. Ric Brown – the state Secretary of Finance – said we’re “on the bubble” in a recent presentation to lawmakers.

In a budget where the governor and lawmakers made education a top priority and both championed accomplishments in restoring support to schools, this would be a huge missed opportunity for getting teacher pay back on track.

Not giving the two percent pay increase for teachers and school staff would cut $134 million in much needed support for Virginia schools in 2016-2018. This decrease would significantly eat away at the progress the state started to make in restoring cuts to Virginia’s schools. Schools will be left with $5,266 in state support per student in 2017 compared to the $5,305 per student they would have received in the adopted budget. That’s a drop of $39 per student and the impact is even larger in 2018 with a decrease of $68 per student.

This cut would also mean Virginia teachers go another two years without a much-needed pay increase. During the financial strain of the recession, state lawmakers decreased support for Virginia schools and withheld increases to teacher pay to help balance the budget. Since 2008, the state has provided only small bumps in pay: a 2 percent increase in 2014 and 1.5 percent in 2016.

Teacher salaries in Virginia averaged $49,800 in 2014, compared to $56,600 nationwide – 12 percent below the rest of the country. And Virginia does even worse when teacher salaries are compared to other occupations in the state. A report ranked Virginia near the bottom – behind only Colorado and Arizona – in the competitiveness of teacher salaries relative to the salaries of other occupations.

Competitive salaries are important to help attract the best students to the teaching field and to help keep them in Virginia after they graduate. Findings from the legislature’s research arm show that attracting and retaining high-quality teachers can be one of the most effective strategies for improving student performance, and it can be among the most cost-effective when it is targeted to low-performing students.

If the two percent pay increase for teachers is cut, Virginia will have missed yet another opportunity to make the investments that help kids thrive. And this failure will particularly sting as it will come in a budget initially celebrated for investing in education.


Chris Duncombe

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