West Virginia teachers strike over education bill, public schools shut | News Coverage from USA

West Virginia teachers strike over education bill, public schools shut

Public schools across West Virginia shut down Tuesday as teachers walked off the job to protest state legislation they describe as retaliation for a strike nearly one year ago.

Union leaders at a news conference late Monday cited frustration with Republican leaders’ deliberations over proposed education legislation. 

“We are left with no other choice,” said Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers’ West Virginia chapter. 

Almost all the state’s 55 counties canceled school Tuesday. Schools in Putnam County, about 15 miles west of Charleston, were scheduled to remain open, and social media posts showed a picket line at the district’s bus garage.

How long the strike would last would be decided day to day, union leaders said.

The state’s teachers and school service personnel went on 13-day strike that began a year ago Friday, protesting their pay and insurance plan. The walkout inspired teacher demonstrations around the country, from Oklahoma and Arizona last year to Los Angeles and Denver this year. And the strikes are continuing: Teachers in Oakland, California, plan to walk out on Thursday.

Related: Teacher strikes: What’s next in your state

More: West Virginia teacher strike ends, some schools to reopen Wednesday

Striking teachers in West Virginia last year won a 5 percent pay raise – an average of about $2,000 per teacher. Katie Endicott, an English teacher at Mingo Central Comprehensive High School, told USA TODAY it’s disappointing that the situation has come to this so soon after. 

“It’s really disheartening to see the process play out and to see that people are using public education as a form of retaliation,” Endicott said. “But, at the same time, we’re really resolved in the fight and we’re not going to back down. We’re not going to quit because we know that the future of public education is at stake.” 

Discussions about the education legislation reached a tipping point Monday, Endicott said, as compromise seemed impossible. The legislation, said fellow Mingo Central English teacher Robin Ellis, includes public funding for charter schools attached to an additional teacher raise. One bill version also leaves out an amendment prohibiting lawmakers from profiting from charter schools, Ellis said. 

Mingo County teachers voted to go on a one-day strike two weeks ago, Ellis said, and planned to walk out Tuesday. Following the Senate’s “shenanigans,” Ellis said teachers in 53 of the state’s other 54 counties will join them. 

“We anticipated this and we were ready for it,” Ellis said. “And we’re ready to take a stand.”

The Senate’s version of the bill would allow for up to seven charter schools statewide and provide for up to 1,000 education savings accounts for parents to pay for private school. The House passed its version of the bill last week.

Union leaders said they will consider the situation day by day when it comes to the length of the strike.

County superintendents will communicate alternative schedule plans with parents, West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine said in a statement. 

“I regret that circumstances have led to the announcement of work stoppages in many counties throughout the state,” Paine said. “I am working diligently with all parties to advocate for a prompt resolution. Though this is an uncertain and emotional time, we cannot forget that the best interest of students must be our top priority.”

Putnam County issued a statement saying its schools would remain open Tuesday.

“It is important that our students continue to have the opportunity to learn in a safe and secure environment,” the statement said. “Each day our schools provide much for the students we serve such as a safe and caring environment, meals, and the opportunity to participate in various extra-curricular activities.”

Contributing: John Bacon and Chrissie Thompson, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

 

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