Striking teachers in West Virginia will return to the classroom Thursday, as the state’s Republican governor announced he’s offering teachers and school service personnel a revised 5 percent pay raise in the first year.
Gov. Jim Justice made the announcement at a news conference Tuesday after emerging from a meeting with union leaders for teachers in all 55 counties.
“We need our kids back in school. We need our teachers back in school,” Justice said.
In addition, Justice said a task force will be formed to address health benefits for state workers, including teachers.
Chief of Staff Mike Hall said the latest pay raise proposal is based on revised revenue estimates of $58 million. The pay increases would have to be approved by the Legislature. Hall said the governor is committed to calling a special session if necessary.
Justice did not offer a specific revenue source but said that an overhaul of U.S. tax laws passed by Congress last year “is going to have a profound impact” on state finances.
Justice said that under his proposal, all state workers would receive a 3 percent raise, with teachers and school service personnel getting an additional 2 percent in the first year.
Teachers started their walkout last Thursday, their first statewide strike since 1990.
Last week, on the eve of the strike, Justice signed a bill into law that would raise pay for teachers and state employees. Teachers would see a pay increase of $808 next year and $404 the following two years. Teachers said the increases are not enough, especially as health care costs rise.
The average pay for West Virginia teachers ranks among the lowest in the nation.
Justice said bigger raises would follow if numbers next year confirm the state’s economic turnaround. Teachers should push for an increased severance tax on natural gas to permanently fix funding for the insurance program for them and other public employees, he added.
In other developments, State Schools Superintendent Steve Paine said a decision would be made Monday whether to add an item to the state Board of Education meeting Tuesday that would discuss possible legal action against teachers. He said the work stoppage is illegal and disruptive to student learning.
It was unclear Tuesday morning if an item was added to the meeting’s agenda.
Missed class time automatically is added to the end of the school year.
Fox News' Frank Miles and The Associated Press contributed to this report.