Students In West Virginia Will Head Back To School As Teachers' Strike Ends

Mar 6, 2018
Originally published on March 6, 2018 8:05 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In West Virginia, a statewide teacher strike appears to be over. Public schools there have been closed for nine straight school days. Teachers were protesting years of stagnant wages. West Virginia's Republican governor, Jim Justice, now says the raise educators were hoping for will come through.

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JIM JUSTICE: West Virginia renews its investment in education and our precious children today.

KELLY: Reporter Dave Mistich of West Virginia Public Broadcasting was in the state's Capitol today for the announcement.

DAVE MISTICH, BYLINE: The teachers, whose pay ranks almost last in the country, had demanded a 5 percent raise after years of flat earnings. A deal stalled when senators had dug in on a 4 percent salary increase, but today's compromise meets the original demand and promises a pay boost for all state employees. It passed unanimously to cheers from crowds of teachers gathered at the Capitol, many hugging those next to them.

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UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting, unintelligible).

MISTICH: Staci Wallace is a Spanish teacher at George Washington Middle School.

STACI WALLACE: We have fought long and hard for this, and I feel that there's more than enough money that will go around.

MISTICH: Senate Republicans who had been skeptical about the state's ability to afford the pay boost laced their congratulations with caution. Here's Finance Chair Craig Blair.

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CRAIG BLAIR: This pay raise just isn't for the teachers and the school service personnel. It's also for the state employees - 5 percent for all. We've also done this without increasing any taxes at all. Now, there's going to be some pain.

MISTICH: That pain will soon come into focus in the form of roughly $20 million in cuts to other government programs that would have seen increases this year, such as tourism and the state commerce department's development office. In a news conference following the passage of the bill, Senate President Mitch Carmichael also acknowledged that Medicaid funding would likely be part of that equation.

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MITCH CARMICHAEL: Medicaid is always a part of the budgeting process, and so that - we, you know, frequently move Medicaid money around within the context of the budget. And frankly, the budget that's being brought forth has Medicaid cuts to it. So there will be, you know, additional areas of the budget that must be cut.

MISTICH: But at this afternoon's bill signing, Justice promised he'll sign a final budget that will not cut into Medicaid funding to pay for the raises agreed to today. For NPR News, I'm Dave Mistich in Charleston, W. Va. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.