All 55 counties closed down schools because of the walkout. The strike—the first in 30 years—is considered illegal, but that hasn’t stopped hundreds of teachers from heading to the state capitol to protest.
West Virginia teachers’ salaries are among the lowest in the nation. According to National Education Association research of 2015-16 teacher salaries, teachers in the state make an average of $45,622. The national average is $58,353. Teachers have called on the West Virginia legislature to fund both pay raises and the public employees’ health-care program.
The night before the strike, Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, signed legislation that will give teachers a 2 percent increase starting in July, followed by an additional 1 percent hike in each of the next two fiscal years. At the governor’s request, the controversial benefits plan was delayed for a year.
Still, the state teachers’ unions have said the pay raise is not enough.
“Teachers and service professionals are tired of being told, ‘Wait ‘til next year,’ ” Dale Lee, WVEA’s president, told West Virginia Public Broadcasting. “There’s still a tremendous amount of anger and frustration.”
In 1990, West Virginia’s then-attorney general wrote in an official opinion that teacher strikes and “concerted work stoppages” are illegal and that teachers could be punished by being denied pay, suspended, fired, barred from teaching in a public school for a year, charged with a criminal misdemeanor, or even fined or jailed if they do not comply with a court injunction ordering them to return to work, according to local media.
In a statement, Patrick Morrisey, the state’s current attorney general, said his office would assist and support officials as they enforce the law.
State schools superintendent Steve Paine also called the statewide strike unlawful, saying in a statement that it “will have a negative impact on student instruction and classroom time.”
Teachers’ unions have lawyers prepared to defend teachers against any consequences, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reports.
A version of this article appeared in the February 28, 2018 edition of Education Week