NEA President Lauds West Virginia; Oklahoma May be Next
Every school in West Virginia closed on the last Thursday of February for what eventually became a 9-day work walkout by nearly 22,000 public school teachers and education support professionals.
The walkout seemed to be near an end in early March when the West Virginia House of Delegates approved a five percent salary increase. The state’s senate initially balked and offered four percent.
Teachers continued the walkout into the next week, and the Senate ultimately agreed to the five percent.
West Virginia teachers had not had a raise in four years. They left their jobs on Feb. 22 in protest of low pay and swiftly rising costs in health insurance premiums.
The West Virginia governor agreed to appoint a task force to review the state’s health insurance program, which has seen health insurance costs spike.
As West Virginia teachers were on strike, Oklahoma teachers considered similar action in April. Teachers there have not had a raise since 2008. Dwindling resources have forced 91 of 500 Oklahoma school districts to move to four-day weeks. Class size has ballooned and programs have been cut.
West Virginia teachers have one of the lowest starting salaries in the country, ranking ahead of only Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
During the walkout, thousands of teachers met at the state capitol on the first day of the walkout. Estimates put the numbers inside the building at more than 5,100.
NEA President Lily Eskelsen García said the West Virginia Senate would not have honored the pact without the efforts of the West Virginia Education Association.
“They stood in solidarity and made their voices heard to demand recognition of their professionalism and dignity because they know attracting and retaining the most caring and competent educators for West Virginia students is essential to their state’s success,” she said.
Eskelsen García cautioned that the victory will be short lived if the task force fails to confront challenges in the state’s Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA).
“I have complete faith in the educators of West Virginia to continue making their voices heard and ensure the task force is successful,” she said.