CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia teacher’s strike may soon be one for the history books.
Gov. Jim Justice announced Tuesday morning that a deal had been reached between the House and Senate to deliver a 5 percent pay raise to public school teachers – and all state employees – on the ninth day of a strike that shut schools across West Virginia’s 55 counties. Within hours, the ensuing bill was unanimously passed by the state Legislature.
Earlier in the morning, raucous cheers broke out from the throng of teachers and students who filled the State Capitol building in Charleston awaiting an announcement.
Once the governor signs the legislation, union organizers said the teachers will leave the picket lines and head back to the classrooms. Buses could be running again as soon as Wednesday.
“This is an opportunity to at least retain the most highly-qualified teachers in West Virginia,” said Christine Campbell, the president of the American Federation of Teachers West Virginia.
A quarter of a million students across the state have been out of school since Feb. 22. That’s when 20,000 public school teachers hit the picket line, demanding better pay. The average salary for West Virginia teachers in 2016 ranked as the 48th lowest in the nation, according to the National Education Association.
“We are fed up. Enough is enough,” Jamie Heflin, 38, a single mother who teaches at Lenore K-8 School in Williamson, told NBC News last week. “We’re tired of the disrespect.”
Justice, a Republican, had pushed for a 5 percent raise last week, but Senate Republicans wouldn’t agree to those terms without cuts elsewhere in the budget. Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, a Republican, said the raises will be paid for with $20 million taken from elsewhere in the state budget, including Medicaid.
The work stoppage has inspired teachers facing low pay in other states to consider their options. On Thursday, the Oklahoma Education Association teachers union is expected to announce a plan for a potential strike.
“This historic action in West Virginia will inspire others,” Dale Lee, the president of the West Virginia Education Association said on MSNBC. “This is just the first step.”Ron Allen reported from Charleston, and Ethan Sacks reported from New York.