HAMPTON, Va. - For Kristina Kearney, teaching kindergarten requires a lot of time and commitment and it’s become especially challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It has taken a toll. I’m not going to lie; it has taken a toll,” Kearney said. “It’s tiring because you’re sitting in front of a computer all day. It is exhausting.”
Teaching is a profession one local lawmaker said comes with a wage that doesn’t always reflect the complexity of their work. Now, Del. Martha Mugler (D-Hampton) is looking to level the playing field by proposing a pay raise for public school teachers.
“Teaching is a very honorable career,” said Mugler. “Some of our neighboring states are way outpacing us in terms of salary, so it makes it really difficult to compete in attracting the most qualified teachers.”
On average, Mugler said a public school teacher in Virginia makes roughly $52,000 a year compared to about $60,000 - $61,000 nationwide.
Mugler’s bill would bump a teacher’s salary up by 4.5 percent every year over the next five years bringing it closer in line with that national average.
“It’s important we acknowledge the really difficult work teachers are doing in the classroom,” Mugler said.
The legislation comes during a time she said school districts across the state are facing a teacher shortage and families are struggling to make ends meet.
“Education is going to be key to coming out of the pandemic and it’s going to be key, the future of economic recovery of the Commonwealth,” said Mugler.
One of the hurdles the General Assembly could face is funding the bill.
Mugler said in the first year, a pay raise could cost more than $400 million statewide that would come out of the general fund. She said, however, it’s not impossible and worth the effort to attract and keep highly qualified teachers that would give students the best education.
“We need the best and the brightest in our classrooms, so it’s critical,” she said.
Though tough at times, Kearney said teaching is a profession she loves to do but added that a pay increase would help her family and the morale of other teachers.
“I think we would see less turnover and more student achievement,” she said. “You don’t become a teacher to become rich. You become a teacher to make a difference in the world.”
Mugler said the pay raise bill and efforts to revitalize a struggling economy from the COVID crisis will be priorities of hers in the 2021 legislative session. She plans to introduce the bill next week. If passed, it would go into effect in 2022.