West Virginia governor signs bill to give striking teachers pay

Gov. Justice:

Arizona Teachers Seeing Red, Gearing Up for West Virginia-Style Action

On Tuesday came the announcement that lawmakers had agreed to give the teachers, and all state employees, a 5 percent raise, to block any cuts in health benefits until at least the middle of next year and to form a task force to address that problem long term.

The Senate ended up passing the measure 34-0. Justice later dropped the proposal and indicated he would sign it if it were to reach his desk.

In the predominately rural state of West Virginia, where average teacher pay ranks 48th nationwide, teacher vacancies have increased significantly, from about 400 in 2015 to more than 700 today, with projections of 1,000-plus in coming years. Currently, the plan has been frozen from further changes for 16 months.

Union leaders said teachers wouldn't return to work until they got a 5% raise.

Governor Jim Justice said "I believe in you and I love our kids" to the teachers after the deal was made, and plans a news conference later Tuesday. Justice reconsidered after an initial round of protests, and the House of Delegates later approved a 5 percent increase. "All the focus should have always been on fairness and getting the kids back in school", the governor said in a tweet.

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West Virginia's teachers are applauding the unanimous Senate approval of a 5 percent raise in pay for teachers and troopers, in a deal to end a nine-day walkout that closed schools statewide. He also said to make it possible, his staff had to find other ways to cut $20 million in state government spending - saying the funds will partly be taken out of Medicaid, the Division of Commerce and the Department of Tourism. The money will come from budget cuts from his staff. The issues of raises and a PEIA fix had been brewing for a while, with some schools, including Wetzel and Brooke Counties, choosing to close their doors for the day on Friday, February 16.

The president of the American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, cheered the educators' "labor solidarity" and pushing for conditions that would allow the best possible environments for their students to learn. We'll see whether the legislature goes along with the raise. Given that about 75% of teachers are women nationwide and in West Virginia, this lack of investment in the educational pipeline appears to have a stranglehold on the state's ability to influence its own future positively.

The West Virginia legislative session ends on Saturday, March 10 at 11:59 p.m.

Speaking to his members on Monday evening, West Virginia Educational Association head Dale Lee noted that only 20 legislators out of 134 actually opposed the pay raise, and said the whole thing had devolved into "petty politics and ego".

A show of support by thousands of teachers and supporters on Monday didn't sway lawmakers in time to avoid a ninth day of cancelled classes for the school system's 277,000 students and 35,000 employees. The Senate said there was only room for four percent, delaying the vote. The House did not agree with the Senate's move and the bill was sent to the conference committee, a temporary panel of House and Senate members formed to reconcile controversial legislation that has passed both chambers. The committee planned to meet again Tuesday morning.

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