West Virginia Teacher Strike Reaches 7 Days Without Classes

(CN) — West Virginia public schools remained closed for a seventh straight class day Friday as teachers continued to fight for pay raises.

The statewide strike over low pay and rising insurance costs had been expected to end Thursday under a deal negotiated between Gov. Jim Justice and teachers union leaders.

The tentative agreement included the proposal of 5 percent raises and the appointment of a task force to find a long-term state funding source to offset public workers’ rising health care costs.

But the deal unraveled Thursday after the state Senate’s Republican majority refused to take up the legislation which their GOP colleagues in the state House had passed i98-1 Wednesday night.

Instead, the Senate voted 20-14 to send the legislation with raises to its finance committee. With that the teachers unions announced their members would stay out of work and the Virginia Department of Education said public schools in all  of the state’s 55 counties would remain closed.

The finance committee is expected to take up the measure Friday.

State Sen. Craig Blair told the Associated Press that its important the bill be considered in the context of other budget provisions.

“That budget will also have to have whatever we do for pay raises … and all the other host of things that we need to be able to manage,” Blair said. “I don’t like feeling bullied into when we’re going to do something.”

But said Jacob Staggers, a sixth-grade teacher in Morgantown, West Virginia, was angered by the move, telling the AP, “We don’t trust the Senate.”

West Virginia teachers and service personnel, noting that they were among the lowest paid in the country, walked off the job Feb. 22. The teachers haven’t had a raise for four years.

The deal announced Tuesday would have given the teacher’s a raise in the fiscal year starting July 1.

The governor said a projected $58 million increase in state revenues during that fiscal year would cover the higher raises.

The ongoing dispute could have profound political implications for West Virginia. All 100 seats in the House are up for election this year, as are half the 34 seats in the Senate.

Teachers have promised to pay close attention to each lawmaker’s actions and vote accordingly.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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