CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As crowds of chanting educators gathered at the state Capitol to see if the Senate will take action on a pay raise bill, Senate President Mitch Carmichael strongly hinted that additional money will be directed toward shoring up public employee health insurance instead.

“Our intention is to substantiate these numbers and then those numbers will be dedicated to PEIA,” Carmichael said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

“We believe that’s what the teachers want us to do. We hear they want PEIA. We’ve heard it and heard it and heard it.”

As teachers and school service personnel have walked off the job for a week, their focus has been on better pay and stable health care costs.

Carmichael noted that the governor has already signed a bill providing an average 2 percent pay raise next year to teachers and service personnel.

Gov. Jim Justice earlier this week raised state revenue estimates by $58 million and announced that he now supports a pay raise averaging 5 percent. The House suspended rules and passed a bill reflecting that on Wednesday evening.

Carmichael said the focus should be on PEIA.

“This additional money the governor has found would be built into PEIA within the budget,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson. “We absolutely must protect the PEIA insurance programs first and foremost.”

The state Senate plans to reference the bill dealing with educator pay raises to its Finance Committee, the Senate Clerk announced today.

Prior to the Senate floor session, as educators filled the galleries, no Finance agenda was yet posted for today.

The Senate clerk made the announcement via its Twitter feed.

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, speaking today on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” said there should be action on the pay raise bill on the Senate floor today.

He said Democrats will ask for the bill to be taken up for immediate consideration on the floor, rather than assigned to committee.

“Let’s get this thing on the road,” said Prezioso, D-Marion.

He added, “We’ve got to go ahead and make our deal right now and get our teachers back in the classroom. They want us to show them that we’re serious. We can be serious and stay on the floor and pass this 5 percent pay raise.”

Counties called off again all over the state on Thursday, with teachers saying they will not be content until the pay raise bill is passed and signed.

On Wednesday, Governor Justice also signed an executive order establishing and defining a task force to look into stabilizing the finances of the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

Tiffany Johnson, a teachers aide in Jackson County, was among those who returned to the Capitol on Thursday. She carried a sign thanking the House of Delegates for its action.

But she said the deal is not complete until the pay raise bill is passed and the governor signs it.

“First of all, we haven’t seen anything in writing, and we’re still being told that the Legislature may not pass this. They may not even bring it up today. So our whole mission was to see changes to PEIA and to start seeing pay raises to all state employees.

“Without that put in writing, it’s just another broken promise. So we came out today to be united and strong and show them that we’re here to see this through.”