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West Virginia Teachers Enter Day Two of Strike with End Likely in Sight

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The gallery of the West Virginia House of Delegates, filled with teachers, erupted with cheers after delegates voted to essentially kill a sweeping education reform bill. Photo: Perry Bennett/West Virginia Legislative Photography

West Virginia teachers and school service personnel are on strike for the second day, despite a procedural move Tuesday in the state’s Republican-led House of Delegates that jeopardizes the passage of a sweeping education reform bill.

The bill included a 5 percent pay raise for school employees and some additional provisions that the state’s labor unions approved of, including increased tax credits for the purchase of classroom supplies and bonuses for certified teachers in areas of high need, like math and special education.

But it also contained provisions that union leaders said outweighed the good, including the creation of charter schools and education savings accounts– which allow parents to take government dollars and invest them in a private account to fund alternative education options for their child.

On Tuesday, House members voted to postpone the bill indefinitely, an often tried but rarely agreed to procedural move that effectively kills a piece of legislation. It’s 53-45 approval was met by cheers from hundreds of teachers who filled the House’s galleries and the hallways outside the chamber.

But even with what appears to be the end of the controversial bill, union leaders said Tuesday night they would continue their strike into a second day, just in case members of the House attempt to revive the bill Wednesday when school personnel return to their classrooms, driver’s seats and hallways.

“All three organizations have had conference calls earlier tonight. We’ve heard loudly, loudly and clearly from our members,” West Virginia Education Association president Dale Lee said. “We believe that there is still a minute opportunity for something to happen. So with that being said, all 55 counties will be closed again.”

Wednesday morning, 54 of the state’s 55 counties did shutter their doors, although some cited winter weather as the reason for their closure.

The controversial reform bill was introduced by members of the West Virginia Senate, whose leader, Republican Senate President Mitch Carmichael, said he was promised the bill would make it through the process on the other side of the Capitol’s rotunda Tuesday.

“I’ll say in this political world, all you really have is your word. And, so, when one gives you your word, you take them at their word and we take actions accordingly,” Carmichael said. “We had an agreement and then, you know, it wasn’t honored.”

The state’s Republican governor, Jim Justice, said in previous interviews he would veto the Senate’s version of the legislation should it pass.

Justice has proposed a 5 percent pay raise for all state employees without additional reforms to the state’s education system. A member of the House’s Republican leadership team said Tuesday that “clean” bill would likely be before the chamber’s Finance Committee Wednesday.

West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Dave Mistich contributed to this report.