West Virginia teachers strike to continue Wednesday

Teachers went on strike last year and won a 5% raise. Now they're furious over a new education bill.

West Virginia teachers plan to stay on strike Wednesday, with union leaders saying there is a trust issue with the Legislature, even after the state House of Delegates decided to “postpone indefinitely” any decision on proposed legislation that spurred the teachers to strike.

Teachers from all school districts are expected to strike, unions announced.

On Tuesday, the state House of Delegates adopted a motion to postpone any decision on Senate Bill 451, which would introduce charter schools to the state and allow some public money to go to private school tuition.

The American Federation of Teachers’ West Virginia chapter and state Sen. Mike Romano, a Democrat, said the postponement essentially means the bill is dead.

“We have heard loudly and clearly from our members,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association. “We believe that there is still a minute opportunity for something to happen (by lawmakers).”

Lee’s announcement that teachers from the state’s 55 counties were expected to stay on strike was met my deafening shouts and applause by the crowd gathered inside the state Capitol.

“I think it’s very clear here tonight, and it’s clear across this state, there’s a trust issue,” Joe White, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, said.

The president of West Virginia’s branch of the American Federation of Teachers said teachers can’t trust Senate leadership. “That’s why we are staying out one more day to make sure that this is a dead bill,” said Fred Albert.

Teachers against a bill on funding charter schools

This time, teachers were not demanding raises or better health insurance. They were fighting SB451, which would allocate funding for schools differently.

The bill’s supporters said it would provide the 265,000 students in public schools with more choices.

Christina Rollins, who teaches at Suncrest Elementary in Monongalia County, said teachers are keeping an eye on other bills to see what legislators do.

The key issue, she said, is money for students.

“I think the most important thing is (charter schools) takes funding away, and kids away, from those public schools that need it. ”

Anna Mattern, a second-grade teacher from Morgantown, wrote on Instagram that what it’s not about is a pay raise.

“This is about fighting to keep these students in our schools,” she wrote. “This is about providing the best to our students. This is about showing our students how much we love and care for them.”

The bill passed the Senate earlier this month and went to the House of Delegates, which made some changes. SB 451 then went back to the Senate, which made an amendment before passing the bill Monday night, prompting a state teachers’ union to announce the strike would start Tuesday.

Fifty-four counties closed their schools Tuesday, with only those in Putnam County remaining open, according to the state Department of Education website.

Brent Griffith, a middle school language arts teacher in Boone County, posted a photo of dozens of teachers outside the Senate chamber in the Capitol. Mingo County science teacher Justin Carter posted video of teachers singing the 1984 Twisted Sister hit, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

“Thousands of public employees are standing together in unity today for our kids and the future of our state! I’m so proud to be a West Virginia educator today!” Carter wrote.

Second strike

It’s the second time in 11 months that West Virginia teachers have gone on strike. In March, after their nine-day strike, Gov. Jim Justice agreed to a 5% raise for teachers and a commitment to fixing the teachers’ troubled insurance program.

On Tuesday, he called on legislators to pass a “clean bill” that he previously proposed that addresses pay raises for state employees. He also called on all employees to go back to work as soon as possible, saying their voices have been heard but people need to “give this process now a chance to really work.”

Critics say the lengthy, sweeping SB451 would combine raises with things teachers don’t want — for example, putting public dollars toward charter or private school education at a time when public schools need more money. West Virginia presently has no public charter schools.

The bill also would have created an education savings account program, which would allow households making less than $150,000 a year to apply for public funds to help pay for private school tuition, tutoring, online learning programs or other educational costs.

Bill supporter says it’s needed for reform

Senate President Mitch Carmichael said Tuesday’s House vote was “a delay, not a defeat.”

“There is a vital need to reform West Virginia’s education system, and I do not believe that any true transformation comes through a pay raise alone,” he said. “Our families deserve competition, choice, and flexibility.”

Union leaders and teachers say none of the lawmakers pushing for the bill consulted with them before drafting such a sweeping bill, and some say the West Virginia bill — like ones in Oklahoma and Arizona — are aimed at retaliating against teachers who scored victories with their 2018 protests.

In Tuesday comments to reporters, Albert, the union president, praised the House for hearing out teachers but complained that while teachers were each given just over a minute to address their concerns, “they let the outsiders from the (educational savings accounts) and the charter schools speak unlimited hours before the committee.”

Republican state Sen. Patricia Rucker, an SB451 sponsor, has said teachers will get their raises no matter what happens to the bill.

“First and foremost, the additional 5-percent raise for teachers and school service personnel has been promised and will be delivered, regardless of what we are able to do at this time to reform our state’s education system,” Rucker wrote to CNN.

As for public charter schools and education savings accounts, Rucker said both would give families more choices in education.

“There is no retaliation involved in wanting every student in West Virginia to have the best possible chance to succeed based on his or her own needs,” she said.

 

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