GRAFTON—After weeks of protesting, state employees were granted the largest pay raise they have seen in recent years. The celebration didn’t stop there, all West Virginia teachers were also granted a five percent pay raise, ending the state-wide walk-out.
The walk-out began on February 22, when approximately 20,000 teachers and service personnel participated in the state-wide walk-out.
Throughout the state more than 700 public schools remained closed for the nine-day period leaving approximately 277,000 students out of the classroom.
Teachers throughout the state voiced that their pay was too low, data from the National Education Association shows that in 2016, West Virginia ranked 48th in average salaries, and educators believe that low pay pushes qualified teachers to leave the state.
Another major concern that echoed throughout the state was the rising costs of their health insurance from Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA).
On Monday, the state capitol reached full capacity, as thousands of teachers, service personnel and supporters filled the building and urged for the five percent raise to be passed.
According to the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, by 11:00 a.m., Monday, around 3,700 visitors had entered the building, and by noon upwards of 5,000 people had entered the building.
With constant pressure, WV Legislators knew they had to act. The office of Governor Jim Justice released the following statement Tuesday morning,
“Governor Justice stood rock solid on the 5 percent Teacher pay raise and delivered. Not only this, but he and his staff made additional cuts which gave all State employees 5 percent as well. All the focus should have always been on fairness and getting the kids back in school.”
“Because of the Governor’s leadership our state is now growing at a 4.7 percent growth rate and can afford helping our people.”
For the issue with PEIA Governor Justice stated that a PEIA task force will conduct public hearings across the state and bring back recommendations and solutions to find a permanent fix for funding the health insurance plan for state employees and retirees.
Teachers, service personnel, state workers received substantial community support during their nine-day walk-out.
On Monday, students and supporters gathered for a student led rally at Anna Jarvis Elementary School.
During the rally attendees showed their support for teachers and helped raise money for the FUMC-AJE Backpack Program, as well.
Grafton High School Seniors Jarrett Toothman and Brooklyn Perks shared that they wanted to show the students of Taylor County stand for West Virginia education for the future.
GHS student Jason Gainer shared that they are standing #55untied with the teachers to show their support.
During the rally, monetary and food donations were accepted throughout the day.
Monday evening, J.R Toothman shared that the rally raised $622 in donations for the FUMC Backpack Program and a truck of additional food supplies.
In addition, he shared that Toothman Ford will match the donation bringing the total to $1,244.
Taylor County Middle School Teacher Shelia Copeland shared that the student rally really shows that the kids were behind them.
“The community support has been awesome. I have had many parents tell me good job and thank you for doing this for our kids,” expressed Copeland. “We are fighting for a brighter future for our students.”
Third grade students Peyton Stevens and Rory Stevens shared that they were excited to be with their teacher on Monday and can’t wait to be back in school.
“Mrs. Cochran is a good teacher and she is really nice. We are happy to be here supporting her today,” they said.