CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia teachers and school service workers say they’re ready to put down the signs and head back to class.
“Everyone is so ready to see their kids,” Fayette County teacher Danielle Harris told MetroNews Tuesday — the last day of a statewide strike.
Cheers were heard throughout the state Capitol halls after the Legislature approved a 5 percent pay raise bill for teachers and all state employees. Governor Jim Justice was expected to sign the bill Tuesday afternoon.
Educators have been fighting for nine days for better pay and benefits.
Stacy Patterson, a teacher at Jayenne Elementary in Marion County, said it’s been worth it.
“I want my students and my children to see that you do have a voice and you can make a difference as long as you stay together and unite,” she said.
Patterson said she got emotional watching the House pass the bill Tuesday.
“When I was in the House earlier, it brought me to tears. It’s been a long fight. Just happy to see some kind of resolution,” she said.
The strike continued to make national headlines as more and more people flooded the state Capitol each day. Patterson said the unity has been indescribable.
“I was always proud to be a teacher, but today, standing next to these people, I couldn’t stand next to a better group of people in the entire nation,” she said.
Harris said even though lawmakers passed a pay raise plan, it’s not the end of their fight. She said they still want to see a permanent funding solution for their health insurance through the Public Employees Insurance Agency.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction, but we want to ensure that PEIA gets fixed,” she said.
The raise could help with recruitment efforts, though, Harris said.
“This is a way to gain attraction to other upcoming teachers. We have teachers that want to be in the profession, and when they see this, they’re having second thoughts. We’re hoping that this attracts new teachers,” she said.
Gwen Justice, a teacher at Williamstown High School in Wood County, said she wasn’t completely satisfied with the deal. She thinks teachers deserve more.
“I don’t think it’s enough, but it is a compromise,” she said.
Mingo County teacher Brandon Wolford felt differently.
“We are absolutely ecstatic at this moment,” he said. “We thought it would never come.”
Schools in West Virginia will reopen Wednesday for the first time since Feb. 22.