ROANOKE, Va. – The Virginia General Assembly session kicks off Wednesday in Richmond.
On the agenda for the Virginia Education Association is better pay for teachers. They say the average salary is $9,200 below the national average, ranking 34th in the country.
The VEA's director of government relations and research, Kathy Burcher, says a teacher's starting salary is about $32,000, and with that money it is hard to pay off student loans.
She says lawmakers need to look at the funding formulas, including what is the Commonwealth paying for that students don't really need?
"Right now, we're throwing some money at salary when we find some money but that's just not going to be something that's going to change what's on the ground. That's why this fight's been going on for so long. We've hit at it piecemeal and instead of having a plan, a long-term plan to bring our teacher salaries in, our school employee salaries up to at least the national average," said Burcher.
Burcher also says every school division pays more for public education than they are required to. She says the VEA believes if the Commonwealth gives more money to programs, the cities and counties can then pay for salary increases.
Teacher retention is also something they are going after. Burcher says for the last three years, Virginia has started the school year with at least 800 unfilled positions.
10 News has covered this problem before.
She says since 2009 the number of students enrolling in teacher preparation colleges and universities is down 40 percent and there's not an uptick coming.
"How do we attract high school students who don't believe teaching is a profession they need to go into, or that they should go into? Our colleges and universities are really struggling as well, maintaining their faculty and staff on board and making sure that if we can fix this problem, we need to fix this problem," said Burcher.
in October, there was a summit to address the teacher retention and recruitment problem.
Virginia Superintendent Dr. James Lane says many recommendations came out of that. He says compensation, support, professional development and mentoring have to be apart of the solution.
"Teachers are essential to the success of our students in school," said Lane.