Update: 4 Percent Teacher Pay Raise Bill Reaches House Following Senate Procedural Confusion

Teachers rally outside the state Senate chambers at the Capitol in Charleston, W.Va., on Thursday, March 1, 2018.

Update: 10:15 p.m. 03/03/18

The question of whether striking West Virginia teachers would return to the classroom Monday was temporarily dwarfed by another Saturday night: What just happened here?

The state Senate passed a bill that they thought would give teachers a 4 percent raise, less than the 5 percent they asked for. But, according to a House of Delegates clerk, the version Senate lawmakers passed had some of the same key language as the original.

Essentially, they accidentally passed the bill their opponents asked for. 

Confusion spread throughout the Senate chambers, as House members walked across the hall to watch some of their counterparts sort out what some kept calling a “clerical error.” Eventually, in a puzzling set of moves, the Senate passed the version they intended. The House will now have the chance to review the amended bill. (The House approved the 5 percent raise almost unanimously on Wednesday.)

Gov. Jim Justice chimed in with a statement: “While everyone is focused on the mistakes, my focus is solely on getting our children back to school,” it said in part.

“This wrangling needs to stop right now,” Justice said. “For crying out loud, we are putting our children at risk. I will not be a party to pitting our state employees against our teachers. I strongly feel we are blessed to have both.”

Earlier Saturday, the president of West Virginia’s largest teacher’s union said an ongoing teacher walkout will continue “indefinitely” unless teachers get the 5 percent raise they’ve been asking for.

Dale Lee made the remarks on behalf of the two teachers unions, and the one representing school service personnel, shortly before the West Virginia Senate voted on an amended bill. The lawmaker behind that amendment, state Sen. Greg Bosos, R-Nicholas, said his plan could free up money in the state budget to allow raises for all public employees in the state.

“Until this bill passes at 5 percent, we will be out indefinitely,” Lee told reporters.

On the seventh day of teacher walkouts in all 55 counties Friday, Justice and a group of superintendents urged Senate leaders to pass the governor’s plan as proposed, with a 5 percent increase. Teachers are also asking for changes to the public employees health care plan, known as PEIA. School administrators have said that the task force set up to study the issue is a good first step toward that fix.

Visitors in the gallery booed when senators cast their votes: 19-15 to change the bill’s language to a 4 percent raise and 21-13 with passage.

Union leaders couldn’t be immediately reached after the vote.