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VA Teachers Say Low Pay Makes It Tough to Do Job They Love

Virginia teachers such as Carmen Sitton say low pay can get in the way of doing a job they love. (Lisa Sale)
Virginia teachers such as Carmen Sitton say low pay can get in the way of doing a job they love. (Lisa Sale)
January 26, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. – Teaching can be a tough way to make a living, Virginia educators say. So, they're looking to the General Assembly for help with low pay.

According to the Virginia Education Association, state teachers make $7,200 less than the national average.

Carmen Sitton, a second-grade teacher in Amherst County, says she took nearly a 50 percent pay cut when she left her previous career in banking some years back. Now, she says it can be tough, even in ways that might seem ironic.

"When my own child comes to me and says, 'Hey, mom, I need lunch money,’” she relates. “’Mom, I'm in the negative with my lunch account, I need some money.' Some days it's a struggle having to make ends meet."

Gov. Terry McAuliffe says education and public employee pay raises are top priorities for the legislative session now under way.

But with a $1.5 billion budget shortfall, Republican legislative leaders say the state cannot afford raises for teachers.

Sitton says as long as she's been teaching, she's had to keep a second job, and at times a third. In spite of this, like a lot of educators, she regularly pays out of her own pocket to feed and give supplies to students who need it.

"This morning, I had a student come in, face was filthy, told me how hungry he was,” she says. “Of course, I go straight to my drawer. I give him some extra breakfast, wash his face up, give him some soap to take home."

The General Assembly has proposed funding for statewide teacher raises in two of the last 10 years. On a per-student basis, the state now spends less on education than it did in 2009.

Still, Sitton says teaching is her calling. She says she can't tell if her students need her more or if she needs them more, and she couldn't imagine being anywhere else.

"They're going to be somebody,” she stresses. “These kids are going to be somebody. Going to be your doctors, going to be your nurses. These kids are going to be ringing you up at the grocery store. And if you want them to know what they're doing, you got to help them out some way."

Republican leaders in the General Assembly have proposed a 3 percent raise for other state employees, but nothing for teachers.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - VA