WSAZ Investigates | Money for Teacher Scholarships

WSAZ Investigates | Money for Teacher Scholarships
Published: Nov. 14, 2023 at 6:54 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - Caleb Messer is drum major for Scott High School in Boone County. He is also an aspiring teacher and applicant for the prestigious Underwood-Smith Scholarship. He applied Day One.

But months later, his father, Jacob Messer, grew concerned and emailed the state. He received this response Monday:

“Unfortunately, the state of West Virginia did not provide enough funding for the scholarship to be able to accept any new applicants,” the email reads in part.

Jacob Messer discussed the matter a day later, Tuesday, with WSAZ NewsChannel 3′s Curtis Johnson.

“What was your reaction to receiving that email?” Johnson asked.

“It’s just such a blow to Caleb and his dreams of becoming a teacher, and going through college debt free,” Messer replied. “Ten thousand dollars per year is hard to beat.”

Those awarded the scholarship receive $10,000 each year over the course of four years. In exchange, students agree to teach in West Virginia for five years in a high-need field.

But this week, West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission Chancellor Sarah Tucker confirmed the program is only partially funded. She told lawmakers Monday in Wheeling there is not enough money for new applicants.

This is a state with a shortage of more than 1,700 teachers, according to numbers released last week.

Johnson took that point Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason. She chairs the state Senate’s Education Committee and helped chair Monday’s joint meeting.

A day later, from her classroom in Mason County, she told Johnson she just learned of the issue last month and placed it on this week’s agenda.

“We have such a shortage in teachers, how can this be?” Johnson asked.

“Knowing how badly we need teachers, and knowing this helps students, I don’t know how it could go by the wayside,” she replied. “I don’t know how we could argue not to fund it.”

Grady is now working to find a solution, but she is unsure if she can do so in time for the Class of 2024.

But in a state with substantial budget surpluses, Jacob Messer’s father holds out hope for his son and others.

“If we can’t invest that on kids and our education system, then what can we invest it in?” he said.

A Higher Ed spokesperson told WSAZ the commission accepted applications in July, hoping for more funding in a special session, but closed the application window in September when that did not happen.

College students already receiving the scholarship have no need to worry. State officials say the recurring $10,000 for their scholarships is secure.