CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Both the House of Delegates and state Senate gave unanimous approval Tuesday to a five-percent pay raise bill that’s expected to end the nine-day education workers strike in West Virginia.

Teachers will receive the average 5 percent raise they have been saying is the key to reopen schools. And all other West Virginia state employees are also in line for an average 5 percent raise under the deal announced Tuesday morning.

Much of the anger that had built up at the past few weeks turned to jubilation as educators celebrated, singing the unofficial state anthem “Country Roads.”

Gov. Jim Justice’s inital announcement at shortly before 10 a.m. was swiftly followed by agreement of a conference committee tasked to work out differences on the pay raise issue.

Both houses of the state Legislature then suspended rules and passed the bill unanimously by 1 p.m. Justice has a news conference scheduled for 3 p.m.

Christine Campbell

The leaders of the unions representing West Virginia’s educators said they were pleased with the agreement, and crowds of teachers gathered at the Capitol roared their approval.

“We really appreciate all the folks who put all the work and effort into making sure this gets done today, while at the same time recognizing that these folks who have been out of school are the ones who stood up and said ‘We have to make public education a priority,” said Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia.

This was expected to be the last piece of a set of demands by the West Virginia unions representing teachers and school service personnel.

They had demanded a raise of at least 5 percent, having gone without pay increases for several years.

They also wanted concrete efforts toward trying to control spiraling out-of-pocket health insurance costs. Justice established a task force for the Public Employees Insurance Agency and froze the plan at the current fiscal year’s structure.

And lawmakers agreed to sit on bills on issues such as eliminating seniority as the main factor to decide who is affected by school system cutbacks, school vouchers and the automatic deduction of union dues from paychecks.

When the governor’s tweet announcing the deal was released, an audible whoop went out in Capitol hallways.

“It’s time we invest in education and help our teachers and our kids go back to the classroom with pride in the great state of West Virginia,” stated Justice, who circulated among the celebrating crowds in the Rotunda.

Talk of a possible deal on West Virginia teacher pay swirled all morning at the Statehouse. There was a delay on a conference committee to settle the matter while Republicans caucused in the House of Delegates.

That led many to speculate a deal may be at hand.

Those who announced the pay raise deal, which accounts for about $110 million in state spending, said it will require other cuts to the state budget.

Some of that is the additional spending that Governor Justice had targeted for the state Division of Commerce and the Department of Tourism.

More will come from General Services — in the form of deferred maintenance to state properties that will continue to be deferred — as well as cuts to anticipated Medicaid spending.

Mitch Carmichael

Those involved with the deal said it means not accounting in the state budget for the additional $58 million in revenue estimates that Justice announced last week.

“We will make budget cuts and ensure stability for West Virginia,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline. “We will not use any of that found money.”

The Senate majority has said all along that they believed the governor reached for that number under pressure, after taking heat at a series of town halls.

If the revenue should actually come to be, lawmakers said, the Legislature could react by backfilling desired spending when it’s clear the money is solid.

File

Tim Armstead

Lawmakers in both houses and both parties applauded the deal.

“We believe we have taken the steps necessary to ensure our children are back in the classroom, our teachers are back in the classroom,” said House Speaker Tim Armstead, during a news conference of legislative Republicans. “We know that’s where our teachers want to be.”

Addressing Carmichael, Senator Richard Ojeda said on the floor, “Mr. President, I just wanted to say thank you. Thank you all for working together and coming up with a solution that is going to give our teachers and service personnel the ability to get back in the classroom.”

Ojeda’s fiery speeches about the strike have caught national attention and made him a hero among the teachers who gathered at the Capitol.

Talk of a deal began Monday evening, when Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns began a conference committee meeting by saying discussions had fired up between the Senate leadership and the House Speaker.

Ryan Ferns

He proposed giving the rest of the evening to discussions, although most of the others on the conference committee emphasized that school had been out long enough and a deal needed to be reached.

Today, Ferns said negotiations went on until the early morning hours before firming up today among the Republican majorities in the House of Delegates and the Senate, along with the Governor’s Office.

“I think the end product is something that’s positive for everybody,” Ferns said.

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