West Virginia lawmakers propose lowering teacher raises

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Bucking teachers' demands, the West Virginia Senate on Saturday voted to approve a 4 percent pay raise, 1 percentage point less than what the governor negotiated with the educators and what the full House agreed to give them.

The vote came as the teachers' strike rolled into its second weekend. The amendment to the original pay raise bill was introduced by Republican Sen. Greg Boso of Nicholas. The Senate adopted it 19-15.

Senate Republicans have repeatedly emphasized spending restraint while agreeing the teachers and West Virginia's other public workers are all underpaid.

"That compensation increase is long overdue," said Sen. Charles Trump, a Berkeley Springs Republican. "But in West Virginia we've been able to do this without tax increases."

The 4 percent raise would cost $17 million less than the 5 percent hike, the senators said.

Democratic lawmakers said their Republican counterparts should approve the deal the governor negotiated with union leaders for a 5 percent raise.

"We're all caught up in our egos," said Democratic Sen. Douglas Facemire of Sutton. He noted the impact of the impasse on students, including those who depend on school for their meals. "For 1 percent we're going to let kids go hungry," he said.

American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia President told Christine Campbell told WCHS-TV the cut was "a deal breaker."

The Senate bill will have to be reconciled with that passed by the House, which approved the 5 percent raise.

Hundreds of teachers and supporters, including students, rallied at the Capitol on Friday, the seventh day they've shuttered classrooms.

Teachers are protesting pay that's among the lowest in the nation, rising health care costs and a previously approved 2 percent raise for next year after four years without any increase.

Gov. Jim Justice told school superintendents gathered at the Capitol on Friday that he believed the votes for the raise were there. One administrator noted the impasse is affecting 277,000 students and 35,000 employees.

"If they don't do it tomorrow, we spiral off into no man's land," he said Friday, referring to Saturday's session.

Protesting teachers have argued that education in West Virginia — where more than 700 classrooms lack fully certified full-time teachers — needs to be a higher priority among politicians. Pay starts at about $33,000 a year, lower than in surrounding states.

The Republican-controlled House passed the 5 percent raise Wednesday by a vote of 98-1.

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