(CNN) — [Breaking news update, 10:22 a.m. ET]
West Virginia lawmakers said Tuesday morning that a deal has been reached to deliver a 5% pay raise to teachers, according to the governor and the committee meeting on the matter. Teachers have been on strike since February 22.
At a committee meeting Tuesday, state Sen. Craig Blair announced the Senate has agreed to “recede” from its initial opposition, thereby agreeing to accept the 5% pay raise. Gov. Jim Justice also tweeted about the deal.
“All the focus should have always been on fairness and getting the kids back in school,” Justice tweeted.
[Previous story, published at 10:07 a.m.]
West Virginia lawmakers are meeting Tuesday morning in another attempt to resolve the teachers’ strike of nearly two weeks that has shown the renewed strength of organized labor.
For the ninth school day, public schools in 55 counties across the Mountain State were closed Tuesday as teachers and educators demanded higher wages and better benefits, particularly for the embattled state employee health insurance program known as the Public Employee Insurance Agency, or PEIA.
The West Virginia Legislature faces a standoff over how much of a pay raise to offer striking teachers and educators. A legislative conference committee has been appointed to resolve differences between bills in the House of Delegates and Senate.
The committee is meeting again Tuesday after failing to reach a consensus Monday night.
West Virginia ranks 48th in the nation in terms of how much it pays its teachers, according to the National Education Association, and educators say that low pay pushes qualified teachers to leave the state.
Separately, Gov. Jim Justice agreed to set up a task force to address the state health insurance program on March 13.
The strike began February 22 when about 20,000 teachers walked out of schools in what has been a show of the strength of organized labor. Though currently limited to West Virginia, the strike has had repercussions outside the state as teachers in Oklahoma say they, too, have reached their breaking point and are considering walking off the job next month.
Yet the focus in West Virginia has remained on the teachers in the trenches, even for students who have been out of class for days.
“I wish it wouldn’t have come to this and that I was still in school, but I want the teachers to get the wages that they deserve, so I’m all right with it,” said Victoria Blickenstaff, a sophomore at Fairmont Senior High School in Fairmont.
A legislative standoff
Last week, the governor and union leaders agreed that teachers and service personnel would receive a 5% pay raise, and the House of Delegates approved the proposal. However, Republicans in the Senate passed a bill Saturday night with a 4% raise. Union leaders said teachers won’t return to work until they get a 5% raise.
Over the weekend, the Legislature said the difference between the two proposals was $13 million. But the governor’s office and House Finance Committee reran the numbers and now say that new projections show a difference of $6.9 million.
Democratic lawmakers said the new revenue projections show the money is there.
“We are only talking about a minuscule amount of money,” said state Sen. Robert Plymale, a Democratic member of the legislative conference committee, referring to the $6.9 million difference.
But lawmakers such as Sen. Craig Blair, a Republican committee member, expressed skepticism that the difference was only $6.9 million.
“I’m still concerned — very concerned for that matter — that the numbers are not accurate,” he said.
06 MAR 18 10:25 ET
By Eric Levenson and Sarah Jorgensen, CNN
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