There are over 3,200 students in the Waynesboro City school system, supported by 217 dedicated teachers. While teachers in West Virginia, Kentucky, Arizona and Colorado have made headlines by striking to protest low wages and inadequate funding, teachers right here in rural Virginia are among some of the lowest paid in the country.

According to a National Education Association, Estimates of School Statistics 2016-17 survey, Virginia tops the teacher pay-gap list at over 40%. For comparison, neighboring West Virginia earned a 25.1% teacher pay-gap.

The list was compiled from U.S. Census Bureau information comparing the average annual salary for teachers and the average annual earnings for college graduates. In fact, teacher salaries in Virginia have actually decreased over 8% over the past 20 years when analyzed according to ‘constant dollars’ based on the consumer price index.

A little background: using the same criteria, only two states in the country are faring favorably, which are Vermont and Alaska. The states with the highest teacher salaries are in the populous, heavily urban states of New York, California, Massachusetts, District of Columbia and Connecticut, while the states with the lowest teacher salaries are in the mostly rural states of Colorado, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Dakota.

Waynesboro and the Valley are neither urban nor populous and the educators tasked with preparing students for the future are paying the price. "To say that teachers in Virginia are the worst paid in the country is not entirely accurate, but I think it is a fair assumption to say that depending upon the location in Virginia, some of our teachers are extremely poorly paid," Jim Livingston, President of Virginia Education Association, said.

Wealthier areas, with higher property taxes, are electing to pay more for better paid teachers, while rural area schools are struggling. Northern Virginia boasts several of the wealthiest counties in the country, and the average teacher salary reflects this. In comparison, the average salary for similarly educated teachers in rural areas can be nearly 40% less.

"Struggling school divisions continue to bear the burden," said Virginia Delegate Chris Hurst, member of the House Education Committee. Two and three percent raises address only cost of living increases, not the significant gap in overall pay.

"When a teacher graduates with a $60,000 student loan and takes a job that is paying just over $30,000 a year, the numbers just don't add up," Livingston said. "I think teachers have lost a great deal of hope, quite honestly...of any expectation of raises."

Even when we are able to hire driven and highly-educated teachers in our community, will we be able to keep them when they can drive a few hours and command a more equitable, and liveable, salary?

Join us for this month’s ‘Community Conversation,’ August 21, at 6:30 p.m. at the Waynesboro/Augusta County Democratic Committee Headquarters in Willow Oak Plaza. The focus will be “The State of Waynesboro Schools,” and what our schools need, how we can help, and an update on school renovations. Discussions are free, open to the public, and everyone is welcome. We invite folks from all political backgrounds to attend and engage in the issues affecting our community.

There will be a school supply drive as well. For those in our community living paycheck-to-paycheck or struggling to put food on the table, these donations are necessary to a strong start to the school year. Please consider bringing supplies to donate. Commonly requested supplies include backpacks, pens, pencils, notebooks, highlighters, index cards, colored pencils, two pocket folders, and tissues.

Tiffany Potter is an occasional columnist for The News Virginian.

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