More than 22,000 West Virginia teachers have been on strike since Thursday, and every public school in the state is closed. It’s the first statewide strike in the history of West Virginia schools, which checks in at 48th in the country on the National Education Association’s teachers’ advocacy group’s rankings of teacher pay at an average salary of $45,622; for comparison, the average in neighboring Kentucky is $52,134. (New York is first at $79,152 and South Dakota is lowest at $42,025.)
A law signed by the state’s governor last week puts through a 2 percent raise in 2018–19 and a 1 percent raise in the two subsequent school years, but teachers’ representatives have said those numbers are inadequate. The Charleston Gazette-Mail reports that health benefits and seniority practices are at issue as well:
Many school employees interviewed say maintaining Public Employees Insurance Agency health insurance costs and benefits at their current levels is a bigger issue than pay increases. PEIA Finance Board members, at the governor’s urging, have delayed premium increases and benefit cuts, but teachers say that just delays the pain, and a long-term solution is needed. Employees have also connected their strike to their opposition to bills that would downplay the role of seniority in layoff and transfer decisions, and have other effects.
The state’s superintendent of schools says officials met on Sunday and discussed the possibility of seeking an injunction to order teachers back to work, but no such legal action has yet been taken.