West Virginia educators give lawmakers a civics lesson - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

West Virginia educators give lawmakers a lesson on making history


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WVVA) West Virginia teachers and service personnel made history on Tuesday, when after nine straight working days of striking, they demonstrated to lawmakers they would not settle for less. 

Their victory became clear after late-night negotiations Tuesday went into the morning and lawmakers emerged with a deal.  Almost an hour later on Wednesday, lawmakers in the House of Delegates and Senate delivered on that agreement -- passing unanimously a five percent pay raise for teachers, service personnel, and state employees.

The vote's outcome echoed across the Capitol and throughout the coalfields. 

"We got these grassroots here led by the coal mines about unity. It's an honor to spread that across the county," said Kara Brown, a Mullens Elementary School teacher, of the movement that inspired teachers in Oklahoma to strike for higher pay and better benefits. 

As teachers celebrated in the rotunda, there were words of caution by some conference committee lawmakers who only agreed to the five percent raise on the condition that lawmakers make cuts to the state budget. Gov. Jim Justice, (R) West Virginia, had proposed paying for the raise with $52 million in projected revenue increases from the Consumer Sales Tax and Personal Income Tax. But Senate conferees had questions over those numbers and instead insisted $20 million in cuts be part of the agreement. 

"Make no mistake about it. Our resolve is to have more jobs in West Virginia to have a stronger tax base. I've been here since 2003 and we're continuing to fight over a limited pool of resources. We need to get away from that mindset," said Sen. Craig Blair, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.  

The raises for West Virginia employees were estimated to cost $110 million a year. While some of the funding may come from the state's tourism and commerce budget, Senate Finance Chair Craig Blair said more cuts would be needed, likely from Medicaid.

But during a press conference late Tuesday afternoon at the Cultural Center, Gov. Jim Justice downplayed that possibility, saying "there's not a chance on this planet that that is going to be the case."

For now, teachers at the Capitol called Tuesday's votes a victory for a movement that for the first time in decades gave teachers and service personnel a voice. 

"I can't wait to go back and see my kids tomorrow because this was about them. The message I want to send to them is always stand up for what's right and you'll never be wrong," said Wendy Peters, Pres. of the Raleigh County Education Association. 


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