Federal

Teachers Wage Pitched Battle Against W.Va. Education Measure

By Daarel Burnette II — February 05, 2019 3 min read
Senate Finance Committee Analyst Chris DeWitte outlines different tenants of a comprehensive education bill as state senators convene for only the fourth time in state history as a Committee of the Whole to discuss the bill on Jan. 30, 2019, at the Capitol building in Charleston, W.Va.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A wide-reaching education bill in West Virginia has, yet again, pitted the state’s teaching force against its lawmakers—and raised the prospect of another statewide teachers’ strike.

West Virginia state senators on Tuesday passed a controversial omnibus education bill that would boost teacher pay by 5 percent, but also includes provisions fiercely opposed by many teachers, including allowing charter schools and vouchers and a move to curtail the power of the state’s teachers’ union.

The voluminous bill, known as SB 451, has outraged the state’s teachers, who describe it as an effort to privatize education in the state and, despite the pay raise, punish teachers for a nine-day strike they staged last year. They have threatened another strike if the bill passes in its current form.

The 18-16 Senate vote occurred after an impassioned three-hour debate during which more than half the state’s legislators lamented the state’s lagging academic results.

“I know that quality education is the greatest gift we can give our children,” said Senate education committee Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, a Republican. “This may be the most important thing that we’ve ever done.”

Dozens of teachers, decked in red, jeered from the capitol’s gallery.

“What the Senate did is try to provoke teachers...and it showed their desire for revenge,” said Dale Lee, the president of the West Virginia Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union.

Among the teachers’ many objections, the bill would establish savings accounts for families to use in private schools; increase elementary school class sizes; allow for the expansion of charter schools; and require teachers to annually sign off on union dues, which many fear will result in decreased membership.

The bill also would shift many powers over education to local school boards, including the ability to raise property tax levies.

See Also: These States Could Actually Replace Their School Funding Formulas This Year

The state’s House of Delegates has promised to scrap the bill and break it up into several different parts, though a clause in the bill would invalidate all of its provisions if any part of it is taken out, including, most crucially, the pay raise.

Veto Threat

Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, said late last week that he would veto the bill if it arrived on his desk in its current form.

He has opposed the creation of charter schools and says teachers should get a raise with no strings attached.

“For crying out loud, we have to concentrate on our public schools,” he said during an animated press conference. “You’re going to take all of the good that we’re putting together and ruin it. When you have the opportunity to give, you ought not give and put a receipt in the box.”

With the collapse of the coal industry, which the state was heavily financially dependent upon, West Virginia has struggled to pay for its school system, and thousands of families have left for jobs in other states, resulting in districts shuttering schools and laying off teachers. Last year’s strike, which inspired a series of strikes in other states, resulted in teachers receiving a 5 percent pay raise, but many teachers said it wasn’t enough to make a dent in the state’s widespread teacher shortage.

SB 451 would cost the state around $137 million to implement, but legislators hope it would spur public accountability at the local level.

The state’s teachers’ union says West Virginia is looking to reduce spending on schools by raising class sizes and making schools more dependent on local property taxes.

Lee said if the state really wanted to improve schools, it would look to hire more support staff, reduce class sizes, and institute more wraparound services for students—“things we know will make a difference.”

When Justice ran for governor as a Democrat in 2016, he expressed the frustration many parents had in the state over its low academic outcomes and promised broad reforms to the state’s school system.

Since his election, he has received full-throated support from the state’s powerful teachers’ union.

West Virginia isn’t the only mostly rural state to consider broad changes to its governance, accountability, and funding structure this year.

Kentucky’s legislators, after replacing its decades-old funding formula and allowing for charter schools last year, are debating this year the powers that its storied school-based decision-making councils have over its schools.

And South Carolina is debating an omnibus bill this year that would raise teacher pay but dramatically limit annual pay raises and force the consolidation of several tiny school districts.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Attend to the Whole Child: Non-Academic Factors within MTSS
Learn strategies for proactively identifying and addressing non-academic barriers to student success within an MTSS framework.
Content provided by Renaissance
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum How to Teach Digital & Media Literacy in the Age of AI
Join this free event to dig into crucial questions about how to help students build a foundation of digital literacy.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Opinion The Great Project 2025 Freakout
There's nothing especially scary in the Heritage Foundation's education agenda—nor is it a reliable gauge of another Trump administration.
6 min read
Man lurking behind the American flag, suspicion concept.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Federal Data Is the Federal Agency That Tracks School Data Losing Steam?
A new study of U.S. data agencies finds serious capacity problems at the National Center for Education Statistics.
3 min read
Illustration of data bar charts and line graphs superimposed over a school crossing sign.
Vanessa Solis/Education Week and iStock/Getty images
Federal Trump's VP Pick: What We Know About JD Vance's Record on Education
Two days after a gunman tried to assassinate him, former President Donald Trump announced Ohio Sen. JD Vance as his running mate.
4 min read
Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, right, points toward Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally, March 16, 2024, in Vandalia, Ohio.
Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, right, points toward Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally, March 16, 2024, in Vandalia, Ohio. Trump on July 15 announced the first-term Ohio senator as his running mate.
Jeff Dean/AP
Federal In Wake of Trump Assassination Attempt, Biden Calls for Unity and Investigation Gets Underway
President Biden condemns violence, the FBI searches for a motive, and Trump heads to RNC.
3 min read
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa.
Former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents after being struck by gunfire at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. The day after the attempted assasination of the Republican nominee for president, Trump arrived in Milwaukee ahead of the start of the Republican National Convention and President Joe Biden gave a prime-time address, saying "politics must never be a literal battlefied. God forbid, a killing field."
Evan Vucci/AP