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Teachers pensions hurt teachers salaries

DALE Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, lamented that the state has difficulty recruiting and keeping young teachers.

"So many people blame the ills of society on teachers, but with teacher salaries as low as they are, it is difficult to entice people into the profession," Lee told Sarah Plummer of the Register-Herald in Beckley.

The reason for the difficulty is easy to explain: pensions.

Thanks to the lobbying of unions - and legislators who courted union votes - legislators in the days of yore promised teachers generous pensions. But they did not fully fund what they promised.

Today, state taxpayers face a $5 billion unfunded liability for teachers pensions.

The result is that West Virginia:

  • Spent $12,780 per student in 2009, according to Kids Count. The national average was $11,665.
  • Is 48th in teacher salary, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.
  • Adds $29.20 to its pension fund for every $100 in salary, according to the same source.
  • Is thereby No. 1 in that category - well ahead of Massachusetts, which is second at $22.20.
  • Spends 36.5 cents on benefits for every $1 it spends on teacher salaries, according to the California-based CalNews organization. West Virginia is No. 1 in that category. The national average is 26.6 cents.
  • These numbers go a long way toward explaining why West Virginia's education expenses are so high, yet teacher pay is low.

    West Virginia taxpayers are very, very poor, and to beat the national average on school spending represents an outstanding effort.

    Where the money goes - to pensions, not salaries - is a decision that Lee's predecessors at the WVEA, the leadership of the American Federation of Teachers and the Legislature agreed to long ago.

    If that agreement makes it difficult to recruit new teachers, then something has to give - and taxpayers have given enough.


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