West Virginia Teachers Strike Kills Charter-School Bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (CN) – West Virginia teachers and other school personnel went back to work Thursday after their two-day strike killed a bill aimed at bringing charter schools and private-school vouchers to fruition in the Mountain State.

West Virginia teachers gathered at Capital High School in Charleston, WV. early Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019, morning to protest the Omnibus Bill that was moving through the Legislature. (Kenny Kemp/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP)

The West Virginia House of Delegates voted 53-45 to indefinitely table the bill, but comments from Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, upped the ire of educators, who consider the bill a retaliatory measure against them in response to their nine-day strike last year.

“I am disappointed, but let me be clear: I am not defeated,” he said Tuesday.

The bill, which included a pay raise for school workers, also sought to permit the creation of up to seven charter schools in the state and would have established thousands of ESAs, or educational savings accounts. Those accounts would offer households with an annual income of less than $150,000 the option to apply for assistance with private school tuition.

In late February 2018, teachers and other school personnel staged a nine-day strike that won them a 5 percent raise but did not secure more funding for their insurance company, the Public Employees Insurance Agency, which they initially sought.

On Tuesday night, leaders from all three major unions involved in the strike spoke of the lack of trust public school employees feel in the political system as a whole, with many teachers themselves commenting on their aggravation with Carmichael in particular.

“We still believe there is a minute opportunity for something to happen, so with that being said, all 55 counties will be closed again tomorrow,” West Virginia Educator’s Association President Dale Lee said to resounding applause and cheers outside the Senate doors.

Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia chapter, said Tuesday night, “Today, we found out that overwhelmingly they wanted Senate Bill 451 to be killed, to be dead.  And that is what happened. Senate Bill 451 is now dead, and it’s gone and we will not be resurrecting that bill again this year.” 

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