Senators want to punish teachers for strike

February 3, 2019
Teachers and other guests line the press galleries as state senators convene for only the fourth time in state history as a Committee of the Whole to discuss a comprehensive education bill at the Capitol in Charleston on Wednesday.

Exactly one year ago, tens of thousands of educators, parents, principals, students and other concerned citizens marched on the state Capitol in Charleston, demanding that teachers, students and schools be given what they need to do well — higher teacher salaroomries, more class resources and respect for the teaching profession.

They weren’t asking for larger class sizes or charter schools. After nine days of a massive protest. Senate Republican leaders were jolted out of their daze and realized the state Senate’s decades-long intransigence over support for public education needed to end.

A callous read is that they agreed to pay raises and other improved education conditions to save their political careers.

But obviously, the Senate Republican leadership never gave up on its antipathy toward supporting and funding public education. In what can only be deemed duplicitous and dishonest, Senate leaders are now on the cusp of punishing teachers for winning the strike.

An omnibus education bill that is being fast-tracked to the Senate floor ties teacher pay raises to poison pills — the very things that Republicans have always wanted but that educators and the public oppose and know will actually harm kids’ education.

They include transferring public school dollars to establish charter schools, education savings accounts, increasing class sizes in elementary school (a provision that has since been taken out of the bill) and making the entire piece of legislation null and void if even one provision is held invalid by a court. That could mean teachers won’t get their much-deserved raise.

Gov. Jim Justice says he would veto the bill as written and advised the Legislature to just deal with a clean teacher pay raise bill for now. We thank him for putting policy over party.

The added provisions actually will do the opposite of what state Sen. Mitch Carmichael said was the intent of the measure — to provide a world-class education to West Virginia students.

Let’s look at charter schools, which haven’t proven to be the magic bullet that privatizers and profiteers want you to believe.

Take Washington, D.C., for example: Between 2012 and 2017, according to the DC Public Charter School Board, 26 charter local education agencies or campuses/programs closed because of academic deficiencies, financial deficiencies or fiscal mismanagement.

Just last week, four other charters announced they will be closing. Numerous studies have reached the same conclusion: Charter schools generally do no better, or often worse, than traditional public schools. And vouchers — which are like education savings accounts in that parents use tax dollars for private school tuition — have an even worse track record. And as we all know, smaller class sizes allow for more teacher-student interaction and create a more conducive environment for teaching and learning.

That aside, the sneaky legislative process the Senate leaders are using is particularly pernicious.

They didn’t consult with or have any public hearings with teachers, school service employees, county school superintendents, principals or other interested parties. And now they are sidestepping the usual committee process to fast-track the legislation for a quick Senate vote.

Why? Because the only people who want these add-ons to teacher raises are out-of-state, deep-pocketed privatizers who want taxpayer dollars to open charter or other private schools that usually have little or no accountability or transparency. The public doesn’t want scarce public school dollars to be drained from our public schools for failed schemes.

Let’s remember what drove educators and their supporters to Charleston a year ago. They wanted public schools to be improved with programs that have a strong track record, and they wanted teachers to be paid a livable wage and given decent healthcare benefits.

The protesters were not demanding that public dollars be diverted to privatized schooling or that class sizes be made larger.

This nonsense must stop, and the Senate must start acting like a mature governing body that should have learned its lesson a year ago.

Fred Albert is president of AFT (American Federation of Teachers)-West Virginia.

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