West Virginia public school students were home again Friday, with classrooms closed for a seventh straight class day as teachers fought for pay raises. The state Senate's GOP majority refused Thursday to take up legislation to give them a 5% pay raise after four years without one. The Republican-controlled House passed it 98-1 Wednesday night, per the AP. Union officials said members were upset by the Senate and its leader's comments and would skip work. By Thursday evening, the Education Department said public schools in all 55 counties remained closed. The statewide strike over low pay and rising insurance costs had been expected to end Thursday under a deal negotiated between Gov. Jim Justice and union leaders. It included the proposal of 5% raises and the appointment of a task force to find funding to offset rising health care costs.
However, the Senate voted 20-14 to send the legislation to its Finance Committee instead of quickly voting on it. GOP Sen. Craig Blair announced on the floor Thursday that the Finance Committee he chairs would meet Friday to consider budget legislation for the coming fiscal year and other bills. "That budget will also have to have whatever we do for pay raises ... and all the other host of things that we need to be able to manage," Blair said. "I don't like feeling bullied into when we're going to do something." West Virginia teachers and service personnel, noting they were among the lowest paid in the country, walked off the job Feb. 22. Justice announced he's forming a task force to find a solution to rising costs in the insurance plan covering West Virginia teachers and other public workers through the Public Employees Insurance Agency.
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