West Virginia leaders reach deal to end teachers strike

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia lawmakers acted swiftly Tuesday after Gov. Jim Justice and Republican leaders tentatively agreed to end the state’s nine-day teachers’ walkout by giving 5 percent raises not just to teachers, but to all state workers.

“I believe in you and I love our kids,” Justice told teachers after the agreement was announced. He planned a news conference later Tuesday.

With striking teachers cheering from the gallery, the House of Delegates subsequently passed the pay raise for teachers, school service personnel and state troopers on a 99-0 vote. It now awaits action in the state Senate.

The governor, union leaders and the House had agreed to the raise for those groups last week. State teachers are among the lowest paid in the nation and haven’t had a salary increase in four years.

But the Senate refused to go along, approving a 4 percent increase Saturday. The six-member conference committee then agreed to the 5 percent figure Tuesday, and for more than just teachers.

Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair said to pay for the raises, lawmakers will seek to cut state spending by $20 million, taking funds from general government services and Medicaid. Other state workers who also would get 5 percent raises under the deal will have to wait for a budget bill to pass.

“We’ve been down this road before,” West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said. “The winners in this are the students of West Virginia and the educators across West Virginia who finally see a true investment in education.”

The union’s spokeswoman, Kym Randolph, said that if lawmakers quickly pass the legislation as they said Tuesday they intend to, teachers could be back at work Wednesday. “We just need to see it in writing,” she said.

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