A four-day teachers’ strike that closed down schools across the state of West Virginia has come to an end, the governor announced tonight.
Teachers will receive a 5 percent raise this year, pending a vote by the state legislature. School will resume Thursday. (Wednesday will be a “cooling off day,” since some districts had already canceled school.)
In a press conference, Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, said a conversation with a 6th grader named Gideon changed his mind. The governor was trying to explain to him what an investment was.
“He looked right back at me and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be an investment to invest in smart teachers that would make me smart, and then I could, in turn, turn around and do smart, good things for our state?’” Justice said. “Well, he’s right. He’s right. And to be perfectly honest, in a lot of ways, I was looking at this maybe not correctly.”
Justice said state policymakers need to look at education as an investment, rather than just considering the “prudent” thing to do. He said he spoke to union leaders and leaders of the state House and Senate, and then crunched the numbers to determine that all state employees would get a 3 percent raise this year, with teachers and other school staff members getting an additional 2 percent raise. He also announced that he would start a task force to “dig into” the state’s insurance plan for public employees and find a permanent solution.
The 2018-19 benefits plan for public employees would have increased health-care premiums on some insurees, mostly due to a provision using total family income to set premiums for family and employee and spouse coverage, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
“The long and the short of it is just this,” Justice said, “we need our kids back in school, and we need our teachers back in school. They want to be back in school.”
CNN reported that outside the state capitol, protesters cheered when they heard news of the pay raise—but booed when they heard that a change to the health insurance wasn’t coming right away.
Dale Lee, the president of the West Virginia Education Association, said if the legislation doesn’t move ahead quickly enough, the unions would call teachers on strike again. Upon hearing that, CNN reported, teachers chanted, “Back to the table!” and “Fix it now!”
Before the strike, legislation was signed that gave teachers a 2 percent pay raise starting in July, followed by an additional 1 percent hike in each of the next two fiscal years. Teachers had said that wasn’t enough.
Striking in West Virginia is illegal. 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.
The state’s attorney general has said his office would assist and support any state agency, county board of education, or superintendent as they enforce the law. Earlier today during its meeting, the state school board did not elect to pursue any legal action against the teachers.
West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee speaks to school personnel crowded outside the Capitol building on the fourth day of statewide walkouts in Charleston, W.Va., on Feb. 27. --Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.