Virginia May Form Group to Examine Teacher Salaries

Madison Hirneisen | February 12, 2023

(The Center Square) – The Virginia Department of Education could soon form a work group to consider competitive teacher pay in the commonwealth under a bill receiving bipartisan support in the General Assembly. 

A substitute version of Senate Bill 1215 directs the Department of Education to convene a work group of school board representatives, division superintendents, school teachers, school staff and parents to make recommendations related to “competitive” teacher compensation in the commonwealth. 

Under existing Virginia code, “competitive” is defined as “at or above the national average teacher salary.” The code states “it is a goal of the Commonwealth that its public school teachers be compensated at a rate that is competitive in order to attract and keep highly qualified teachers.” 

The substitute version of SB 1215 made significant changes to the original bill, which was carried by Sen. Louis Lucas, D-Portsmouth, and passed by lawmakers in the Senate unanimously. The original version of SB 1215 would have altered Virginia’s code to require teachers to be compensated at a rate that was at or above the national average teacher salary. 

The work group established under SB 1215 would be tasked with producing a report by November that examines the “feasibility” and fiscal impact of maintaining the definition of “competitive” in the Virginia code. The bill also states that the work group should consider whether or not to amend the definition to incorporate an “alternative metric.” 

The substitute bill was passed in an unanimous vote out of the House Appropriations committee Monday, after lawmakers noted funding has been included in proposed budget amendments for the bill. An identical bill, HB 1566, received broad bipartisan support in House committees, but has stalled after it was not heard on the House floor before last Tuesday’s “crossover” deadline. 

Virginia lawmakers have indicated interest in increasing teacher pay in the commonwealth. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate included 2% raises for teachers and public employees in their proposed amendments to the biennial budget, which would come on top of 5% raises previously approved by the General Assembly. 

Proponents of SB 1215 argue increased compensation is needed to retain teachers in the commonwealth. 

A review by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission found more teachers are leaving the profession, and fewer are becoming licensed for the first time. Additionally, vacant teaching positions have been on the rise in Virginia, increasing from about 800 vacant positions before the pandemic to 3,300 vacancies as of August 2022, according to JLARC. 

Additionally, a fiscal review of SB 1215 revealed Virginia teachers are paid about 11% lower than the national average. The average salary of a teacher in Virginia in fiscal year 2021 was $58,500, while the national average was nearly $65,300. 

Fund Our Schools, a coalition of individuals and organizations across Virginia advocating for fully funding public schools, tweeted Monday that the passage of SB 1215 is “great news for Virginia students in terms of addressing long-term recruitment/retention challenges.” 

If SB 1215 is passed by the House, it will need to go back to the Senate to approve the substitute bill. A request for comment from Lucas’ office regarding the substitute version of the bill was not returned within deadline.