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Fact-check: How Low Does West Virginia Rank in Teacher Pay?

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Teachers hold a rally outside the Senate Chambers in the West Virginia Capitol Monday, March. 5, 2018 in Charleston, W.V. Hundreds of teachers from 55 counties are on strike for pay raises and better health benefits. Photo: Tyler Evert/AP Photo

Less than a year after West Virginia experienced a major teachers’ strike, Republican state Del. Paul Espinosa touted GOP efforts to raise teacher salaries — and attacked Democrats for causing the problem of low pay in the first place.

On Oct. 9, Espinosa, who chairs the House Committee on Education, tweeted, “From 1990 to 2015 under democrat control, W. Va. teacher pay rank plummeted from 30th in the nation to 48th. Our GOP led legislature is committed to reversing that decline through passage of the largest aggregate pay raises in our state’s history. #ResultsNotResistance #wvgop18”

Espinosa said he was citing numbers originally provided by the governor’s office, but we decided to take a look at the original data.

Where West Virginia ranks nationally

The numbers vary a bit from measurement to measurement, but there’s no question that West Virginia currently ranks near the bottom of the 50 states in teacher pay.

A CNN article published around the time of the teacher strike, on March 5, 2018, pegged the state at 48th in the nation — consistent with Espinosa’s second figure. The article cited data collected by National Education Association, a prominent teachers union.

We were able to find a more recent figure from the NEA, covering 2017, and by then, West Virginia’s ranking had grown even worse. It fell for the second year in a row, to 49th.

Meanwhile, we located data from earlier NEA surveys and found that West Virginia hasn’t ranked higher than 44th since 2004.

 

However, we weren’t able to find NEA data online prior to 2003, so we turned instead to data collected by the federal Education Department. This data set goes back to the late 1960s.

Here’s a chart comparing West Virginia and national teacher salaries at various intervals since the 1969-70 school year. It shows that West Virginia pay has trailed national pay by a fairly consistent margin since at least 2000. It also shows that teacher pay hasn’t kept up with inflation during the last decade.

 

As for West Virginia’s ranking nationally, it fell precipitously between about 1970 and 1990, then spiked upward before starting to decline again around 2000.

 

This tracks with contemporary news coverage of the 1990 West Virginia teachers’ strike, which came when teacher pay was almost at the bottom of the rankings, according to Education Week.

In the 1989-90 school year, the period of the previous strike, West Virginia ranked 48th. To find the state rating roughly 30th in the nation, you have to go back all the way to the late 1960s.

So Espinosa has a point that West Virginia teacher pay had sunk to a couple places from the bottom by 2015 — but he’s exaggerated the heights from which it fell.

Are the Democrats to blame?

This is more of a mixed picture than Espinosa lets on.

First off, the time period is cherry-picked. The legislature had been controlled by the Democrats for decades until the GOP won control in the 2014 elections. By ending his time frame at 2015, Espinosa  overlooks the period when the GOP controlled the Legislature — a period in which the state’s teacher pay ranking has fallen, according to the annual NEA data.

In addition, the 1990-to-2015 time frame cuts out the governorship of Republican Arch Moore (who served three non-consecutive terms, from 1969 to 1977 and from 1985 to 1989). It also cuts out the current governorship of Jim Justice, who was elected as a Democrat but later switched to the GOP. Currently, Republicans control the governorship as well as both chambers of the legislature.

As it happens, the greatest increase in the teacher pay rankings during the period Espinosa cited came between about 1990 and 2000. During most of that period, the state had a Democratic governor, Gaston Caperton. A couple years of that time span were under a Republican governor, Cecil Underwood.

Ultimately, then, the partisan blame does not accrue exclusively to the Democrats.

Our ruling

Espinosa said, “From 1990 to 2015 under (Democratic) control, W. Va. teacher pay rank plummeted from 30th in the nation to 48th.”

There’s no question that West Virginia teacher pay currently ranks near the bottom of the 50 states, but he exaggerated how far those rankings had fallen since 1990. In addition, the biggest rise in pay during that period came during the tenure of a Democratic governor, which undercuts the argument that the Democrats are entirely to blame.

We rate the statement Mostly False.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

Fact Check

Fact-check: Does West Virginia have the Nation’s Fourth-worst Poverty Rate?

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This March 15, 2018 photo shows Moundsville, W.Va., from a nearby farm. Photo: Paul Vernon/AP Photo

In a Nov. 8 op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Democratic state Sen. Mike Romano expressed concern about the state of the West Virginia economy.

“Our poverty rate, which has not declined since the Great Recession, was 19.1 percent, the fourth-highest in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau,” Romano wrote.

Are Romano’s statistics about West Virginia poverty accurate? We took a closer look.

We turned to official U.S. Census Bureau data for poverty by state and looked at 2017, the most recent year for which data was available. While there are two main Census Bureau sources for poverty statistics — the Current Population Survey and the American Community Survey — experts we consulted with agreed that the American Community Survey data was better for a statewide statistic because it has a much larger sample size.

Romano was correct that West Virginia had the fourth-highest poverty rate of any state in 2017, at 19.1 percent.

Here are the five states with the highest poverty rates that year:

1. Mississippi: 19.8 percent

2. Louisiana: 19.7 percent

3. New Mexico: 19.7 percent

4. West Virginia: 19.1 percent

5. Kentucky: 17.2 percentOur ruling

Romano said the poverty rate in West Virginia “was 19.1 percent, the fourth-highest in the country.”

He’s right on both counts, so we rate his statement True.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Have Median Incomes in West Virginia Not Risen in a Decade?

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Minden, West Virginia. Photo: Brittany Patterson/ WVPB

In a Nov. 8 op-ed in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Democratic state Sen. Mike Romano offered a litany of troubling statistics about West Virginia’s economy and urged the creation of “a real economic comeback” in West Virginia.

One of Romano’s statistics was that, “adjusting for inflation, West Virginia’s median household income has not grown in a decade.”

We fact-checked two other statements from his op-ed that turned out to be True.

Is the latest one on stagnant income correct? We turned to official federal data from the Census Bureau to find out.

That data shows that in 2007, the inflation-adjusted median household income in West Virginia was $49,885 — the culmination of a decade and a half of consistent gains above the rate of inflation.

But one decade later, the 2007 figure remains the state’s highest median income level since the statistic was first recorded in 1984. Over that decade, the median income fell by 9 percent when factoring in inflation. (Data for 2018 is not available yet.)

The nation as a whole has seen some income stagnation since 1999, but nothing as severe as West Virginia experienced. Nationally, median incomes have risen every year since 2014 and hit an all-time high in 2017.

Comparing the specific years Romano used — 2007 to 2017 — the national figure rose by 3 percent.

Our ruling

Romano wrote that “adjusting for inflation, West Virginia’s median household income has not grown in a decade.” West Virginia’s inflation-adjusted median income has dropped 9 percent in the last decade, even as the national figure has risen by 3 percent. We rate his statement True.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

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Fact Check

Fact-check: Does West Virginia Spend Half its Budget on K-12 Education?

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Tyler Consolidated High School social studies teacher Susan Gilbert. Photo: Ashton Marra/100 Days in Appalachia

Is almost half of West Virginia’s state budget devoted to K-12 education? That’s what West Virginia state Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, a Democrat, said.

“Fifty percent of our (West Virginia) budget was for lower education,” Prezioso said during a panel discussion at West Virginia University on Nov. 29, 2018.

We looked at the most recent budget report released by the state to determine whether Prezioso was accurate.

According to the most recent West Virginia executive budget document, the state spent $1.919 billion on “education” in fiscal year 2017, the most recent year for which actual expenditures are currently available. (This category does not include university spending. Expenditures for “higher education” totaled $392.9 million.)

Total expenditures for fiscal year 2017 were about $4.2 billion. That means K-12 education accounted for about 46 percent of the budget.

As for the recommendations for fiscal year 2019, education spending would account for 44.26 percent of overall spending.

After the panel, PolitiFact West Virginia asked Prezioso to clarify what he had meant, and he said that the 50 percent figure was an approximation.

Our ruling  

At the panel, Prezioso said that “50 percent of our (West Virginia) budget was for lower education.”

We found that it was 46 percent for 2017 and a recommended 44 percent for 2019. Prezioso was off by a few percentage points, but he was in the ballpark, so we rate his statement Mostly True.

This story was originally published by PolitiFact.

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