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Northam budgets record pay raise for Virginia teachers

(MGN)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam outlined parts of his upcoming state budget proposal Tuesday that — if passed — would include a historic pay boost for state teachers.

Northam wants to spend $88 million to boost a 3 percent pay raise for teachers scheduled to take effect July 1, kicking it up to 5 percent. The governor said Virginia is lagging the national average for teacher pay by about $9,000 a year and is paying for it with high teacher turnover.

"Virginia has slipped in its ability to compete for teaching talent," said Northam, a Democrat. He said the proposed pay increase would be the single largest pay boost for teachers in 15 years.

Virginia splits education spending with local governments, whose share of total costs has increased since the Great Recession. The state's per student funding has dropped by 9 percent between fiscal 2009 and 2019 when adjusted for inflation, according to the left-leaning Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis.

Northam also proposing increased spending for at-risk students and school construction, bringing his total proposed new education spending to more than $260 million in both ongoing and one-time spending. Northam said he also wants to increase the state's rainy day fund by several hundred million dollars by the end of his term in 2022.

The governor plans to pay for his proposal through increased revenues from a variety of sources, including higher-than-anticipated lottery proceeds and a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that broadened the state's ability to tax online purchases. The Northam administration is also counting on a significant windfall from last year's federal tax overhaul, which could lead to Virginians taking fewer deductions on their state income taxes.

Northam will introduce his full budget plan next week and it's almost certain to undergo significant changes by the Republican-held General Assembly next year. Republicans have already criticized Northam's plan to extend tax credits for families making about $50,000 or less, saying it unfairly penalizes middle-class taxpayers.

GOP Del. Chris Jones, the leader of the House Appropriations Committee, said education funding has been a priority for House Republicans and they are "glad to see the governor building" on previously enacted pay raises.

"However, we have to remember this is just one piece of the broader package that we will consider as we put together our proposals," Jones said.

Education officials, including the Virginia Education Association, hailed the governor's proposal as good starting point to address what they are say are urgent problems in education funding.

Bristol Public Schools Superintendent Keith Perrigan said some teachers in his city, which straddles the Virginia-Tennessee border, can currently make about $6,000 more a year just by taking a new job across the state line.

"We're just finding it is harder, not only to recruit new teachers, but to retain the high quality teachers that we have," Perrigan said.

Democratic Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, a teacher in suburban Richmond, said the state is yet to recover from cuts made a decade ago during the Great Recession and it is hurt morale among educators.

"To give a personal example, a decade after I got into teaching I hadn't had a single raise," he said.

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