By Joshua Cropanzano || Staff Writer
Beginning Thursday, February 22nd, teachers in West Virginia walked out of schools and marched en masse to the state capitol in order to protest for higher wages and stronger benefits. The teachers’ demands included salary increases, a permanent fix to their healthcare plans, and an end to education reforms which remove seniority protections for public teachers. West Virginia ranks 48th in the country for average teacher pay and 41st in K-12 educational achievement. However, West Virginia ranks 23rd in the country for cost of living. In this regard, the cost of living of the state is not proportional to the teachers’ salaries.
While Governor Jim Justice (R-WV) signed legislation granting teachers a 2% pay increase this year with an additional 1% increase in the following two years, this did not meet the demands of the West Virginia teachers’ unions. Citing concerns such as that the pay increases wouldn’t cover increasing cost-of-living expenses in the state, the teachers’ unions set a target of a 5% increase. Research collected by the New York Times also helps illuminate the economic situation for these teachers. In an attempt to quantify the cost of living more accurately, the New York Times calculated that West Virginian teachers make, on average, about five times the average monthly rent in income per month. Compared to other states, this is actually rather typical. In fact, states like California and Florida compare far worse, with only three months of average rent per month in income.
Many members of the Republican-controlled state government have called the strike illegal, including the Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. While this may be so, it appears that the state government has elected that preventing the illegal strike would cause more harm than it would prevent. Other members of the state government seem more sympathetic to the cause of these teachers, however. In a formal statement made ahead of the strike, the West Virginia superintendent of schools, Steven Paine, said that he agreed that the teachers “deserved more,” although he was careful to add that “the economic realities of our state may not allow everything teachers deserve to take place immediately.”
The West Virginia state legislature meets for only 60 days out of the year and legislation must pass its chamber of origin by at least day 50, a deadline which would pass on February 28th. The West Virginia state house did approve a 5% pay raise, a move which Governor Justice has come out in support of. According to the New York Times, the teacher’s originally considered a rolling strike. This was rejected in favor of a total strike, likely in order to put pressure on the state government before the day 50 deadline. In this regard, the union was successful.
However, although many state senators have affirmed their commitment to the pay increase, they ultimately voted to give the teachers a 4% pay increase rather than a 5% increase. On Saturday the teachers’ unions announced they would continue to go on strike until their original demand is met, meaning schools across West Virginia are expected to be closed again on Monday, March 6.
It appears this protest has motivated other teachers, specifically in Oklahoma, to begin to strike. As of Saturday night, teachers in Oklahoma have begun to use social media to coordinate a movement, with over 25,000 people joining the related Facebook group, ‘Oklahoma Teachers Walkout – The Time Is Now!’
Sophomore Joshua Cropanzano is a staff writer. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.