For nine consecutive school days, teachers in West Virginia were on strike demanding higher wages and better benefits. The strike drew attention from across the country to the rural state where teachers are ranked 48th for salary among the 50 states.
Those on strike demanded a 5 percent raise for all state employees. The state Senate and House of Delegates unanimously approved the new deal on Tuesday. According to CNN, Gov. Jim Justice signed the deal.
"It took a lot of pulling for everyone to get there," Justice told a crowd of teachers at the state capitol. "But we're there."
The salary change is immediate once the new budget is passed, but the deal was struck with concessions, most specifically, the West Virginia Legislature had to cut spending in other areas to make room in the budget to increase teacher pay.
At a legislative conference committee meeting Tuesday to resolve the issue, Republican state Sen. Craig Blair said the new deal represents the largest pay raise in state history. There will be no tax increase to offset the raise, and Blair said the government will see a $20 million reduction in spending to come out of cuts to general services and Medicaid.
"With this agreement today to reduce spending in state government, in order to give every single dollar available to our public employees, we've achieved the goal of being fiscally responsible while also getting a pay raise that will help our teachers get back in the classroom and our students back to school," said Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, a Republican.
Teachers have a difficult job, no doubt. Perhaps it was time for a raise for some of the lowest paid teachers in the country, especially if qualified educators are moving to states that offer better salaries.
But one issue not addressed that the state may have to deal with later is the growing costs of teacher benefits. In Los Angeles, for example, teacher health benefits are gradually taking more and more money away from other necessities. In Illinois, pension pledges now take precedence over immediate need for more funding in the state's poorest districts.
If the trend continues or spreads, teachers will be sitting on decent retirement eggs, but the states will have much bigger issues on their hands.
Do you know anyone affected by the strike? Were they a part of the crowd demanding better pay? Or someone who has a child in the school system? Let us know your thoughts and experiences below!