The politics of teacher pay

The Top Story by Chris Graham

The group from John C. Myers Elementary School in Broadway was wrapping up its Thursday-afternoon field trip to downtown Harrisonburg when it happened upon a real-life civics lesson.

Republican Party gubernatorial-nomination candidate Jerry Kilgore was at a Court Square eatery holding court with reporters on the issue of, yep, you guessed it, public education.

He had just finished talking with one writer about how his children, Klarke and Kelsey, were busy getting ready for their Standards of Learning tests.

So you could say that he was primed.

“Are there any third- or fifth-graders here?” Kilgore asked the honor students.

Two hands went up, though tentatively.

“Well, I know what you’re going through,” Kilgore said.

Kilgore was in the Shenandoah Valley to talk up his “Three R’s” proposal that would be aimed at helping students at Myers Elementary and other public schools in the Commonwealth by allowing the state to more effectively recruit, retain and reward highly qualified education professionals.

The plan would assist with recruitment efforts by offering student-loan-repayment aid to new teachers who take jobs in distressed school districts, boost retention rates by establishing a statewide teacher-pay policy rewarding experience and job performance and offer bonuses to teachers who complete the National Board Certification process and teachers with advanced degrees.

“We’ve focused on classroom size. We’ve focused on having more computers in the classroom. We’ve not focused on teachers. It’s not just that computer in the corner that makes a difference. It’s the teacher in the front of the class that has the huge impact on our kids,” Kilgore told The Augusta Free Press.

The proposal from the Republican has come under fire from presumptive Democratic Party gubernatorial nominee Tim Kaine, who among other things wonders where the money will come from to pay for what Kilgore has in mind.

“It not only fails to include a component of teacher accountability, but like the rest of Kilgore’s plan for the state, sinks to new lows of reckless fiscal irresponsibility,” Kaine campaign spokesperson Delacey Skinner said of the Kilgore initiative.

“In addition to calling for a rollback of the 2004 Warner-Kaine budget that pulled the state out of a fiscal crisis and improved funding for public education, Jerry Kilgore has consistently refused to pledge full funding for public education. Further, his transportation plan would force schools to compete with roads for funding, and his plan to cap property assessments, without pledging to fully fund the state’s commitment to public education, threatens to bankrupt schools,” Skinner said.

Kaine has countered Kilgore with a teacher-pay plan that focuses on teacher accountability by calling for regular evaluations to measure performance in the classroom. The lieutenant governor has also proposed increases in pay that will match the average pay in Virginia to the national average.

Coming up with the funding to balance the books on either’s idea might be a stretch. Gov. Mark Warner told the AFP during a visit to Waynesboro on Wednesday that state leaders are on the hook for coming up with an additional billion dollars in the coming budget biennium to meet current education-system needs in the Old Dominion.

Kilgore conceded that his teacher-pay plan won’t come cheap.

“I know it will cost. We just have to be committed to doing it,” Kilgore said.

“There are always demands. But K-12 always gets its share, and always gets an increase. All the way from Gov. Allen until now. It’s just making it a priority,” Kilgore said.

“Every governor has some priority in K-12 education. This will be mine … teachers.”

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