Educators Break Out in Song As Pay Hike Ends 9-Day Teacher Strike in West Virginia

West Virginia lawmakers reached a deal Tuesday afternoon that gives all state employees a five percent pay bump, an agreement that signals the end of a state-wide teacher strike that kept more than 270,000 students out of school for the last nine days. 

The legislature had been trying to hammer out a deal throughout the strike, spending hours on Monday debating how much a teacher's salary should increase. Governor Jim Justice announced the long-awaited deal on Tuesday afternoon, tweeting a series of pictures of him with teachers.  

"We have reached a deal," West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said. "I stood rock solid on the 5% Teacher pay raise and delivered." Justice said pruning the budget in additional places would make up for the hike to statewide employees. 

The West Virginia Education Association celebrated the announcement, posting on its Facebook page, writing: "WE WON!" Videos of applauding and singing teachers continued to be uploaded into Tuesday afternoon. Newsweek has reached out to the association for comment.  

The union had been fighting for increased wages in a state where teacher pay is among the lowest for educators in the country, ranking 46th out of 50 states, according to the National Education Association. Average teacher pay last year in the state was $45,783, while the national average hovers around $58,000. 

The strike of about 20,000 teachers started February 22 in response to dismal salaries and skyrocketing health care costs. Last week, a tentative deal was reached that included the five percent pay bump, but the state Senate voted to cut it down, ensuring that the strike would continue. 

The mass walkout served as a warning to legislatures in other states and inspired teachers whose salaries also touch the pay floor. A GoFundMe started by West Virginia natives raised more than $200,000 to help teachers cover personal costs during the walkout. 

"The people who help our kids every day need our help now," Stephen Noble Smith, a Charleston, West Virginia, resident who organized the fundraiser, wrote on its GoFundMe page. Smith said he started the fundraiser "to help support teachers and school service personnel who are taking on great personal cost to organize and support their families during the strike, and beyond."

The last statewide raise for West Virginia occured in 2014, when educators saw a $1,000 annual pay increase and school service employees saw a two percent raise. 

Meanwhile, in neighboring Oklahoma, teachers converged last Friday to discuss their own salary. The average pay for the state's 41,000 educators is a little more than $42,000 annually, according to state data, and a raise hasn't been seen in more than a decade. A private Facebook group created last Tuesday to discuss the merits of a strike already has more than 43,000 members. 

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