CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Some West Virginia parents plan to file a class action lawsuit against the state Legislature for not upholding their constitutional duty to provide a “thorough and efficient” education to students, according to state Senator John Unger (D-Berkeley, 16).
The potential suit during a statewide teacher strike. Thousands of school employees began picketing Thursday to demand better pay and benefits.
“Parents are just getting very frustrated that the West Virginia Legislature seems to not want do anything anymore,” Unger said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
Educators have said a four percent raise over three years, signed into law by Governor Jim Justice last week, is not enough to cover their rising healthcare costs through the Public Employees Insurance Agency.
The PEIA Finance Board voted last week to freeze proposed benefit changes for the next 17 months until they reach a permanent fix.
Unger said “it’s a start,” but more needs to be done to find a permanent solution.
Teachers entered a fourth day of a statewide work stoppage Tuesday. Schools in all 55 counties remained closed.
It’s unknown how long the strike will last. The governor has stressed that PEIA cannot be fixed within the matter of days. Lawmakers have said the current 2-1-1 pay raise is the best they can provide due to the financial condition of the state.
Unger said a judge should weigh in on what needs to happen if there’s no movement at the statehouse.
“If the Legislature’s not moving in making that we have thorough and efficient free educations system, the judicial system has the authority to step in and say you’re not fulfilling your contractual agreement with the people of West Virginia,” Unger said.
West Virginia teachers are currently the 48th lowest paid in the nation with an average salary of $45,000 annually.
The state has more than 700 teacher vacancies. Teachers have left the West Virginia to make more money in neighboring states. The teachers that are still in the Mountain State say they need to be given a reason to stay.
“All across the community — people are angry,” Unger said. “I would like to see them go back to work, but we have to do our job down here too.”
Unger said attorneys are currently reviewing the potential suit. He didn’t say when it could be filed.