House passes raise for West Virginia teachers

07 March, 2018, 11:51 | Author: Katrina Soto
  • The Latest: Teachers say they'll stay out on strike

The West Virginia Senate on Tuesday agreed to give state employees a 5 percent raise, which ended a teacher strike that's shut schools down for almost two weeks. Then, the Senate passed the measure by a 34-0 vote.

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.

Travis Boothe, an organizer with the Morgantown Tenants Union, and Frank Lara, a member of the executive board of the United Educators of San Francisco, told Radio Sputnik's Loud & Clear that the deal is an enormous victory for teachers and workers that reveals how militancy and united action by working people can lead to change. A state Department of Education spokesman didn't return an email message.

News of an agreement first began to circulate the morning of March 6. Some schools planned to reopen on Wednesday after the deal was reached. The House of Delegates later approved a 5 percent increase, negotiated last week between Justice and the unions. "All the focus should have always been on fairness and getting the kids back in school", the governor said in a tweet.

With 17.9 percent of West Virginians living below official poverty levels, teachers, bus drivers and other volunteers are collecting food for students who rely on free breakfasts and lunches. While some of the funding may come from the state's tourism and commerce budget, Senate Finance Chair Craig Blair said more cuts would be needed, likely from Medicaid. The money will come from budget cuts from his staff.

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"They are extremely excited, I have received many text messages you know about how much they miss the kids and they want to be in the classroom, but on the other side they need to stand firm and push for what they really believe in, it's a lesson for everybody", said Ohio County Schools Superintendent, Dr. Kim Miller. Their strike, in one of the poorest states in the country, has disrupted lives across the state, forcing working parents to scramble for child care and putting children who rely on meals at school at risk of going hungry.

West Virginia's teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation and haven't had a salary increase in four years.

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".

After a 9-day teachers' strike, lawmakers have reached a tentative agreement. The Senate offered only 4 percent. Smith said he started the fundraiser "to help support teachers and school service personnel who are taking on great personal cost to organize and support their families during the strike, and beyond". "The House wouldn't agree to the Senate's move, sending the bill to the conference committee". Details were not disclosed publicly.

"We feel like we're under attack constantly", said Cody Thompson, a social studies and civics teacher at Elkins High School.

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