Photo Credit: WSAZ Charleston
West Virginia's teachers are the unsung heroes of our state's education system and we know they're not afraid to stand up for themselves. Earlier this year they became the new face of organized labor during a 2 week strike, resulting in much deserved pay raises for themselves, and their fellow state employees, as well as an (as of yet unfulfilled) promise to fix the broken PEIA system.
PEIA is huge to state workers and teachers. Almost everyone in WV has either said, or heard someone say something along the lines of "the pay's not much, but the benefits make up for it" when describing a job for the state. Sadly, as the years have gone by rising premiums have made that "benefit" seem less and less appealing.
Other states have faced similar issues. In a Charleston Gazette Mail Op-ed Kanawha County Teacher Kristy Peters describes her decision to come back to WV from Florida because of (among other issues) high insurance premiums for limited coverage.
PEIA isn’t just another insurance, it’s a form of compensation. It’s a way to say, “We can’t give you the money you deserve, but we can make sure your health, and the health of your family, is taken care of.” It is a promise that you can safely retire; that you can have your sick days whenever you need them — and if you don’t need them, they can help you in retirement.
I gave up beaches, sunshine and living in a place most people dream about. West Virginia doesn’t have beaches and sunshine, and apparently only our representatives’ pay is competitive with the national average. Keep stripping away at education, and this state will be all but abandoned. The resources will continue to go out of state. No business or industry will locate here if there aren’t employable people.
I know many young people who have left. I know some grandparents who are following them. Public services, teachers and school personnel are like the electric bill: It hurts to go in your pocket to pay it every month, but without it, you can’t do a lot.
It’s time our representatives stand up. Stop the madness, and find a dedicated revenue stream that will fully fund PEIA. Nobody loves harder than West Virginians, and that includes loving their neighbors and their teachers.
If PEIA, the biggest perk of teaching and state employment, continues to rise in cost and shrink in benefits, it's only a matter of time before even more WV Teachers make the same decision about teaching in WV, that Kristy made about teaching in Florida...it's just not worth it.