Lawmakers in West Virginia have announced a deal that would deliver a 5% pay raise to the state’s teachers ending a strike by educators that kept them out of classrooms, and schools closed for nine school days.
West Virginia lawmakers held meetings Monday night and Tuesday morning in an attempt to find a compromise in the nearly two-week impasse. West Virginia teachers, among the lowest paid in the nation, had been asking for a 5% pay raise. The West Virginia House of Delegates approved a 5% raise last week but the state’s Senate cut it from 5% to 4% over the weekend, angering teachers.
Teachers and public employees from all fifty-five West Virginia counties walked out of their jobs on February 22 in protest of West Virginia lawmakers’ reluctance to fully fund the Public Employees Insurance Agency, as well as increase pay.
Republican Governor Jim Justice proposed freezing PEIA, which would have delayed previously-approved cost increases for employees for one year. Justice wanted to use that time to work out a permanent solution. Teachers and employees, however, were dissatisfied with the short-term fix. Many of the protesters carried signs that read “A Freeze Is Not A Fix.”
The one-point difference in pay raise amounts to roughly $13 million. Supporters of the raise argued the shortfall be made up from funds from other agencies, but critics were doubtful. “For numbers to appear out of a meeting and show up on our desks saying all of sudden the numbers are there … as far as I’m concerned it’s…worthless,” said Republican State Sen. Gregory Boso said.
At one point over the weekend, it seemed as though the State Senate had approved the 5% raise. The Senate thought it had voted to cut the raise to 4%, but a House version of the bill with the 5% increase had entered into the Senate voting system by accident, leading to the belief that the 5% raise had been approved.
The Senate re-voted after the mistake was discovered and the original bill with the 4% increase passed.
The next step was a bipartisan, bicameral conference committee made up six West Virginia lawmakers to try and strike a deal. At that conference committee meeting yesterday evening, State Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns said his chamber’s leadership offered “a compromise position” to be considered Tuesday morning. Ferns did not elaborate.
At the committee meeting this morning, State Sen. Craig Blair announced that the Senate had agreed to “recede” from its 4%-raise position, and support the 5% pay raise.
Gov. Justice tweeted about the deal shortly thereafter.
“We have reached a deal. I stood rock solid on the 5% Teacher pay raise and delivered. Not only this, but my staff and I made additional cuts which will give all State employees 5% as well. All the focus should have always been on fairness and getting the kids back in school,” he wrote.
Blair said that the deal comes with a heavy caveat – the Senate only agreed to the higher pay raise with offsetting “very deep” cuts to the budget, including a $20 million cut to general services and Medicaid. “There’s going to be some pain because with this we have not agreed, or we will not be using any of the $58 million of the governor’s revenue estimates,” he said.
The accuracy of both governor’s revenue estimates and those of the Senate’s remain in dispute.
According to West Virginia officials, if both the Senate and the House suspend parliamentary rules requiring a one-day holdover of a conference committee’s report, and Justice signs the bill today, schools could reopen as early as tomorrow.