West Virginia

While trying to placate striking teachers, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice (R) joked about school shootings just 12 days after the Parkland massacre.

During a recent speaking tour at Spring Hills High School in Martinsburg, West Virginia, Gov. Justice walked out to a lectern in a gymnasium and asked the crowd, “Nobody’s going to shoot me or anything, are you?” He later scolded the teachers, saying they should be happy with where they are, and telling them to return to their classrooms while promising to launch a task force to look into teacher pay.

Gov. Justice’s remarks were met first with awkward silence, then with angry jeers from the crowd:

West Virginia’s approximately public school teachers have been on strike since last Thursday, demanding better wages. According to teacherportal.com, West Virginia teachers make a starting salary of just $32,533, making them some of the lowest-paid educators in the nation. That amounts to $625.63 per week, or $15.64 an hour assuming a 40-hour workweek (most teachers work between 12 and 16 hours a day).

For comparison, the MIT Living Wage Calculator estimates that for an adult in West Virginia supporting one child, a living wage — in which a full-time job can cover food, healthcare, housing, childcare, transportation, and other expenses — must be at least $22.06 an hour (or $45,884 per year, assuming a 40-hour workweek). The Living Wage Calculator lists an typical annual salary for West Virginia’s Education, Training, & Library sector as $44,393, which still doesn’t add up to a living wage for teachers with mouths to feed.

Gov. Justice has offered teachers a two percent pay increase beginning in Summer 2018, with subsequent one percent pay increases in the two subsequent years. However, teachers counter that those raises won’t keep up with rising costs of living, along with doing nothing to address an expected increase in health insurance employees that will kick in next year without legislative action.

As of this writing, supporters of the striking teachers have contributed more than $23,000 in three days to a Gofundme launched by Kanawha County public school parent Stephen Smith. The fundraiser lists a goal of $50,000, and pledges that all funds will be used to financially support teachers with nothing taken out for overhead.

 

Michael Boone is a freelance journalist and columnist writing about politics, government, race, and media. He graduated from Texas Southern University’s School of Communication, and lives in Houston’s Third Ward.

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