EDUCATION

West Virginia Teachers Announce Another Statewide Strike

Republican lawmakers are seeking to create charter schools, a move many teachers see as retaliation for their previous walkout.
With his fist raised, Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, joins other union leaders
With his fist raised, Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, joins other union leaders in a call for a statewide strike beginning Tuesday.

West Virginia public school teachers plan to go on strike again Tuesday, nearly a year to the day after they began a historic walkout that inspired teacher strikes in other states.

The unions representing teachers and other school personnel announced the new work stoppage Monday night at the statehouse in Charleston, as the GOP-controlled state Senate debated an education bill that teachers say would siphon money away from public schools.

The legislation would grant school personnel another raise, but it would also introduce charter schools in West Virginia and create a limited number of “education savings accounts,” using public money to reimburse families for private school costs.

Many teachers have called the bill retaliation for their actions last year, when they drew national attention for demanding more school funding and higher pay. The state’s three major education unions called on their local affiliates to hold strike votes among their members two weeks ago and prepare for another mass walkout.

Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, drew cheers at the state Capitol on Monday when he announced the strike plans.

“We are taking action,” Albert said in a joint news conference with other union leaders, according to West Virginia MetroNews’ Brad McElhinny. “We are given no other choice.”

Some of the more controversial proposals approved earlier in the Senate were watered down by the House of Delegates, which is also under Republican control. But when the bill went back to the state Senate, legislators tacked on an amendment paving the way for seven charter schools and 1,000 education savings accounts, MetroNews reported.

Earlier this month, Kym Randolph, a spokeswoman for the West Virginia Education Association, told HuffPost that members hoped to avoid another walkout but were “incensed” by the way Senate Republicans had fast-tracked the education bill. They used a procedural maneuver to clear a committee when it became clear they didn’t have the votes.

Teachers have “watched the actions of the Senate, and it’s like the matador with the red cape,” Randolph said. The teachers “went back to work, and now the Senate has gone this route. It’s kind of disrupting the whole process again.”

West Virginia teachers and other school workers launched their 2018 strike last February after years of weak investment in the public school system. The walkout kept schools across the state closed for nine days as educators filled the halls of the Capitol.

It ended when lawmakers announced a 5 percent raise for school employees and other public workers and a promise to curb cost increases in the employee health care plan.

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