West Virginia lawmakers have unanimously approved 5 percent pay raises for teachers after the governor reached a deal to end a teacher walkout that shuttered the state’s schools for nine days.
The Associated Press reported that a huge group of teachers crowded the hallways of the Capitol in Charleston to cheer their victory.
With striking teachers looking on, the House of Delegates passed a pay raise for teachers, school service personnel and state troopers on a 99-0 vote. The Senate followed, voting 34-0.
The governor, union leaders and the House had agreed to the raise for those groups last week. State teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation and haven’t had a salary increase in four years.
But the Senate refused to go along, approving only a 4 percent increase. A six-member conference committee then agreed to the 5 percent figure Tuesday, and for more than just teachers.
Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair says that to pay for the raises, lawmakers will seek to cut state spending by $20 million, taking funds from general government services and Medicaid.
Union spokeswoman Kym Randolph said before the votes that teachers could return to work Wednesday if lawmakers act quickly.
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 strike, in one of the poorest states in the country, has forced working parents to scramble for child care and put children who rely on meals at school at risk of going hungry.
The teacher walkout over pay and benefits began on Feb. 22 after the governor signed a 2 percent pay raise for next year. He reconsidered after an initial round of protests, and the House of Delegates later approved a 5 percent increase. The Senate’s insistence on a 4 percent raise Saturday prompted the union to extend the strike.