- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2005

Gubernatorial candidate Jerry W. Kilgore thinks he has a plan to bring talented teachers to Virginia public schools and keep them there.

Mr. Kilgore proposes helping teachers with their student loans for at least five years if they take jobs in struggling school districts, and increasing teachers’ retirement benefits.

The Republican candidate, a former state attorney general, also proposes giving tax incentives to those who pursue advanced degrees and establishing a merit-based pay raise system to reward outstanding teachers.

“I’ve been hearing we will have a teacher shortage in the future,” Mr. Kilgore said. “You don’t wait until you get there.”

Unless a teacher takes a job in a school district’s administration, the entire pay structure is based on the number of years of service instead of job performance, Mr. Kilgore said.

“It is the teacher at the head of the class that is impacting [students],” he said. “This will encourage them to stay in teaching and to reach new heights.”

The average teacher’s salary in the state is $44,240, though the average is far lower in Southwest and Southside Virginia.

Under Mr. Kilgore’s plan, teachers would receive bonuses for completing the National Board Certification process — $5,000 for most teachers and $10,000 for teachers who are certified and teach in distressed areas. The same bonus structure would be created for teachers who complete an advanced degree in a key subject such as math or science and if they stay at a Virginia public school for 10 years.

Mr. Kilgore’s plan also includes a marketing campaign to “make it desirable to become a teacher” and the formation of an Excellence in Education Task Force that would develop the criteria for the merit-based pay raises, he said.

Mr. Kilgore did not have an overall dollar figure for how much the plan would cost, but said the task force also would decide how to pay for elements of the plan. He estimated it would cost between $1 million and $2 million for the marketing plan, and $1.3 million would double the size of the state’s current bonus program.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat who is Mr. Kilgore’s main opponent in the governor’s race, has promised that if he is elected he would require the legislature to fully pay for the state’s commitment to the Standards of Quality, which are state regulations for funding quality K-12 education.

The Kaine campaign called Mr. Kilgore’s plan an “unfunded mandate” that would force local governments to raise real estate taxes to pay for it. Last year, Mr. Kaine supported a $1.38 billion tax plan that included both tax increases and cuts. Mr. Kilgore opposed the plan, which invested more than $1 billion in public education.

“When it comes to funding education, Jerry Kilgore has promised to reverse the historic investment the Warner-Kaine administration made in public education,” the Kaine campaign said. “In fact, he opposed the largest boost in funding for public education in Virginia history.”

Mr. Kilgore said under the Republican administrations of Gov. George Allen and Gov. James S. Gilmore III, education spending increased 29 percent and 28 percent, respectively, without a tax increase.

With the tax increase last year, education spending increased by 26 percent, he said.

Mr. Kilgore said additional spending went toward helping reduce class size and didn’t focus enough on teachers.

Mr. Kilgore’s wife, Marty, is a former public school teacher who now serves as executive director of the Virginia Tobacco Settlement Foundation. The Kilgore children attend public schools in Henrico County.

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