West Virginia's new governor, Jim Justice, devoted much of his Feb. 8 State of the State address to a vision of education that would attract and retain talent in public school classrooms—a goal that demands better pay for teachers and strategies that value teaching and learning over testing and punishing.
A former public school basketball coach in Fairlea, W.Va., Justice told lawmakers that it's time to trash the status quo, which diminishes classroom time through rampant testing that drives the state's A-F school-rating system. The state has tried blame-and-shame approaches for too long, with nothing to show for it, Justice said.
"I'm all results-oriented," he told the Legislature in his first State of the State address. "If we were knocking it out of the park, you could argue with me we're doing the right thing. But for crying out loud, we're dead last" on state education rankings, which is a major disincentive for attracting new teachers to West Virginia public schools and preserving the talent now in the classrooms.
Low compensation also is a disincentive, but the Democrat told lawmakers, "I have put in my budget a 2 percent raise for all classroom teachers, and I am ashamed—I'm ashamed—that we can't do more."
"This is refreshing," commented Christine Campbell, president of AFT-West Virginia and an AFT vice president, after the address. "This actually feels like walking the walk and saying we do want to keep teachers in West Virginia."
AFT state affiliates were early and enthusiastic supporters of Justice's gubernatorial bid. Since his victory, the governor has conducted an extensive listening tour around the state, speaking with building-level educators and staff about their concerns and hopes for West Virginia public schools. He has also filled three state board of education vacancies with leaders who, compared with previous board members, are much more in tune with school improvement through adequate support, wraparound services, community ties and other proven strategies. And their ranks are likely to grow, thanks to the recent resignation of two additional board members who supported test-driven policy.
"Our teachers are leaving the state in droves, so it's time that we did something to keep them in West Virginia," Campbell told the (West Virginia) State Journal. "It's time that we look at the grading system" for school accountability, she said, referring to the A-F system that grades the state's public schools.
The State of the State address was evidence that Justice "hasn't lost sight of his long-term goals of generating well-paying jobs, growing the middle class and making West Virginia a top destination for both businesses and young workers," added West Virginia AFL-CIO President Josh Sword.