March 2, 2018 / 3:05 AM / in 4 months

West Virginia teachers strike on Friday amid stubborn pay dispute

(Reuters) - West Virginia teachers were set to strike for a seventh day on Friday as state lawmakers balk at the governor’s promise to raise salaries that are close to the bottom for U.S. educators, the state Education Department said.

An end to the strike that kept more than 277,000 students out of school since last week appeared in sight on Tuesday, when Republican Governor Jim Justice promised a 5 percent raise for teachers in the upcoming fiscal year.

The $58 million proposal went through the Republican-controlled state House of Delegates on Wednesday, but the state Senate sent the bill to its Finance Committee for study.

“The governor goes out and meets with groups that express dissatisfaction and he comes back that night and finds $60 million and takes the pay raise to 5 percent. I believe with everything in me, you would expect us to say, ‘Come on, really?’” Senate President Mitch Carmichael told striking teachers, according to the MetroNews website.

Schools in each of the Appalachian state’s 55 counties will be closed on Friday, according to the state Education Department’s website.

Striking teachers and school employees stopped Justice outside the state capitol in Charleston to press him to get the raise passed, footage on ABC affiliate WCHS TV showed.

“I feel, if we get it through the Senate, we’d go back to work,” one woman told Justice, who was seated behind the wheel of a Chevrolet Suburban.

Justice told the strikers he was on his way to speak to Carmichael, adding, “You’re hurting, not helping, the chance of it passing.”

The agreement reached between Justice and union leaders also gives state police a 5 percent pay raise and other state employees a 3 percent hike. He said he would appoint a task force to look into stabilizing the state employees’ health program.

Teachers walked out on Feb. 22 after Justice signed legislation to give teachers and state police a 2 percent raise. Teachers were also expected to get 1 percent increases in each of the next two fiscal years.

West Virginia ranked 48th among the 50 states in average teacher’s salary in 2016, at $45,622, according to National Education Association data.

Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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