West Virginia teachers are back on strike after sparking protests nationwide
Less than a year after sparking teachers’ walkouts across the country, West Virginia teachers are back on strike.
This time, they’re not demanding a raise or better health insurance. They’re fighting an education bill that would introduce charter schools to the state and allow some public money to go to private school tuition.
After the state Senate passed an updated version of the bill late Monday, a state teachers’ union announced the strike would start Tuesday.
“We’re left no other choice. Our voice has been shut out,” said Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers’ West Virginia chapter.
It’s the second time in 11 months that West Virginia teachers have gone on strike. Last 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.
Now, Senate Bill 451 — dubbed the omnibus education bill — is getting closer to reaching the governor’s desk.
Critics say the lengthy, sweeping bill combines 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.
If SB 451 passes, West Virginia could get public charter schools for the first time.
It would also create 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.
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.
If the House approves the latest version, it’ll head to the governor’s desk, where the bill could become law.
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 — just like new bills in Oklahoma and Arizona — are aimed at retaliating against teachers who scored victories with their 2018 protests.
But Republican state Sen. Patricia Rucker, a sponsor for SB 451, 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.
“To say that simply wanting more options for children throughout the state of West Virginia is retaliatory is misinformed, at best,” she said. “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.”
Union leaders say it’s not clear how long West Virginia teachers will stay on strike.