Liz McCormick Published

Senate Passes Bill Requiring Teachers Receive In-Field Master's Degrees For Pay Increase

Senate Education Chair Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, from behind a barrier set up for COVID-19 protections, explains SB 15 to members of the Senate on Feb. 18, 2021.

Updated on Feb. 19, 2021 at 12:30 p.m.

The West Virginia Senate passed a bill Thursday aimed at keeping qualified teachers in the classroom.

SB 15 prohibits teachers from receiving a pay increase for any education level above a bachelor’s degree unless they have received a master’s degree that directly connects to the areas in which they teach. By doing this, that teacher would then be eligible to receive a bump in pay.

The bill, if signed into law, would only affect teachers receiving a master’s degree on or after July 1, 2022.

“This bill is essentially going to encourage teachers to become better teachers. That is the intent,” said Senate Education Chair Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson.

To receive the in-field master’s level salary, a teacher must teach at least half of their classes in subjects that are consistent with their degrees.

A section in the bill also allows a teacher who does not meet the requirement but does meet certain criteria, to petition their county superintendent for the salary increase.

“We put this provision in to provide flexibility for those situations that, you know, just won’t fit [the] ‘one size fits all,’” Rucker said. “We definitely know that it’s not good to make it that way.”

To be eligible, teachers must meet one of two criteria: 30 credit hours of post-baccalaureate graduate credit in the specialization they completed at their undergraduate level and also in the field that the teacher is currently teaching; or 30 credit hours of post-baccalaureate graduate credit in an area approved by the West Virginia State Board of Education that enhances that classroom teacher’s effectiveness.

“So, this will encourage people to get [for example] a degree in math and teach in that area? It will incentivize them to do that?” Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, asked Rucker during discussion of the bill on the Senate floor.

“I think so, yes,” Rucker answered. “And it could also incentivize them [to take] other types of courses that would help them to teach math, or teach better.”

The state school board would be in charge of enacting rules regarding the in-field master’s salaries and criteria.

The bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support, but also saw bipartisan opposition.

Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, a school teacher who had expressed support for the intent of the bill in the Senate Education Committee last week, voted to reject it on the Senate floor.

Grady defeated former-Senate President Mitch Carmichael for his seat in the Senate. Carmichael was the target of many teachers’ frustrations during the teacher walk-outs of 2018 and 2019 in West Virginia.

Some users on Twitter signaled to West Virginia Public Broadcasting their concerns with the bill saying it would make getting the step increase in pay “more restrictive” and create more “bureaucracy to the process.”

Tega Toney, vice president for the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said on Twitter the bill “limits the type of advanced degree a teacher can receive for the pay bump. It also works under the current salary scale, therefore not providing any additional ‘raises’ other than what is already allotted and codified” in state law.

SB 15 now heads to the House of Delegates for further consideration.

**Editor’s Note: This article was edited for clarification on the potential impacts of the bill.