March 5, 2018 / 6:49 AM / 13 days ago

UPDATE 2-West Virginia lawmakers weigh pay deal to end teachers strike

(Recasts with pay compromise talks, details on Oklahoma, adds byline)

By Ian Simpson

March 5 (Reuters) - Thousands of striking West Virginia teachers flooded the state capitol in Charleston on Monday as lawmakers sought a compromise pay package to end a strike that has closed schools for eight days, while Oklahoma educators also considered a walkout.

The strike, now in its eighth school day, has idled more than 277,000 students as educators pressed for higher salaries in a state where their pay is near the bottom of the scale for U.S. teachers.

West Virginia and Oklahoma ranked 46th and 47th among U.S. states for average pay for teachers in 2016, at $45,783 and $45,317, respectively, according to the National Education Association.

So many teachers and supporters crowded the capitol that the state public safety department and fire marshal barred entry to any more visitors.

A conference committee comprising lawmakers from the state House of Representatives and the Senate was due to meet on Monday afternoon to resolve conflicting pay bills for the state’s 35,000 teachers.

The House passed a measure with a 5 percent raise that has the support of Governor Jim Justice and union leaders. The Senate approved a raise of 4 percent over the weekend that would save $17 million in the Appalachian state’s budget.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, stepped into the dispute by urging Republicans in the state Senate to approve a deal that would end the strike. The governor is a Republican and both state legislative chambers are controlled by the party.

“It is time to get our kids back to school, and the only group standing in the way is Senate Republicans,” Manchin said in a statement.

In Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Education Association is weighing a potential walkout, and on Thursday is to address steps leading to a possible strike, said Doug Folks, a spokesman for the union.

“Our people are fed up and we’re looking at what our next step might be,” Folks said. A spokesman for the state Education Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Prospects for a strike have risen with the Oklahoma legislature’s failure to act on a measure that would have funded raises of $10,000 per teacher over three years. Budget cuts have forced some school districts to cut classes back to four days a week. (Reporting by Ian Simpson in Washington Editing by Frank McGurty and Peter Szekely)

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