Republican candidates for the 22nd House of Delegates District say the state needs to "cut the fat" to fund road projects and pay raises for teachers, while Democrats suggested borrowing money through a bond sale and increasing manufacturing jobs as ways to increase revenue.
The Daily Mail editorial board met with candidates from the newly redrawn district on Wednesday. The two-seat district used to cover mainly Lincoln, Logan and part of Boone County but now includes about 17,000 Lincoln residents, 10,000 Putnam residents and only a few precincts in Logan and Boone Counties.
Four candidates are vying for those seats. Those include Lincoln Democrats Josh Stowers, an incumbent, and Jeff Eldridge, a former delegate for the 19th District who left office in 2010 for an unsuccessful state Senate bid.
Republicans Gary Johngrass of Lincoln County and Michel Moffatt of Putnam County also are running.
Johngrass said his daughter is a teacher in another state and won't move to West Virigina because of the bad things she's heard about the state's education system. He said the state's low salaries are not attracting quality educators to the classroom.
He said the state should "cut a lot of the fat" and use the savings to increase teacher pay.
Stowers, an assistant principal at Kanawha County's Horace Mann Middle School, agreed there is a problem finding qualified teachers. He said about 700 teachers statewide are in classrooms they're not qualified to teach.
But Stowers said the key to attracting better teachers to the state isn't about salaries.
An education efficiency audit released in January recommended the state start a "rural homestead" program, which would forgive teachers' college loans if they agree to teach in rural schools for three years. Stowers said that program also would get teachers in high-need schools.
Eldridge suggested focusing on students as a way to reform the state's school system.
"If a kid's not happy, he's going to perform low," he said.
He said schools should make it easier for children to enter vocational education programs.
Voters might remember Eldridge as the sponsor of the controversial "Barbie bill" introduced in the 2009 legislative session. That measure would have made it unlawful to sell Barbie and similar dolls "that promote or influence girls to place an undue importance on physical beauty to the detriment of their intellectual and emotional development."