West Virginia Teachers Strike to Oppose State Education Bill

West Virginia teachers on strike protested inside the state capitol on Feb. 19, 2019. (Yawana Wolfe/CNS)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (CN) – Teachers from all 55 West Virginia counties went on strike Tuesday in an effort to ensure that a highly complex education bill that included proposals for charter schools and educational savings accounts would be tabled indefinitely.

Earlier in the day, the Republican-led House voted 53-45 to postpone the bill which kept the bill from making it to the next step, a Senate-House joint committee which would have tried to come up with a suitable compromise.

In a 3 p.m. EST press conference, Republican Gov. Jim Justice said he would veto any bill that included educational savings accounts.

“Now that I really, completely understand the educational savings accounts, I veto it,” Justice said. “The model is just not there.”

On the topic of charter schools, Justice also sided with the striking teachers, saying “I have said all along that I am not an advocate or a fan of charter schools, period. The reason that I am not is that I do not think our educational system today can afford it and I think that we need to do a whole lot more for public ed before we take on more of a load.”

Justice urged the striking teachers to go back to work tomorrow, at times seeming to plead with them, despite murmurs of disagreement from the back of the room where many of the striking union members gathered together.

Lily Kurfman, a 1st grade teacher from Monongalia County, said she hopes the bill disappears completely.

“Even though the bill was indefinitely tabled, we keep hearing that it could be called on again for further review, so we are not making any for sure moves until we find out what happens next,” Kurfman said.

Lori Woodrum, a preschool teacher of 19 years at Midway Elementary in Lincoln County said she feels the Senate, led by Republican Mitch Carmichael, is retaliating against teachers because of their nine-day strike last year.

“I love my kids, I love my job, but I can’t do it with the pay that I’m getting and everything that’s getting ready to come down,” Woodrum said.

In late February of last year, West Virginia teachers staged a nine-day strike, fighting for a pay raise and funding for their insurance company. The teachers received a 5 percent pay raise but failed to provide guarantees to control rising healthcare costs or a clear game plan on how to fully fund their insurance.

Woodrum also expressed hesitation believing what Gov. Justice said in the press conference.

“I don’t trust any politician,” she said, “Before the election, he said he had x amount of million dollars and was going to give the teachers another 5% raise. What happened to that after the election? Where is that money now?”

At a 7 p.m. EST press conference following the 6 p.m. Senate hearing, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said, “We believe that there is still a minute opportunity for something to happen, so with that being said all 55 counties will be closed again tomorrow” to resounding applause from striking teachers gathered in the capitol rotunda.

Joe White, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, said it was made clear from a conference call with their members that “the trust is not there. Our friends from the House of Delegates have sent a clear message to the Senate leadership and so are we.”

The American Federation of Teachers West Virginia chapter’s President Fred Albert said “we cannot trust the leadership in the Senate,” referring to Carmichael, “We are staying out one more day to ensure that this is a dead bill tomorrow.”

Earlier in the day, the Republican-led House voted 53-45 to postpone the bill which kept the bill from making it to the next step, a Senate-House joint committee which would have tried to come up with a suitable compromise.

In a 3 p.m. EST press conference, Republican Gov. Jim Justice said he would veto any bill that included educational savings accounts.

“Now that I really, completely understand the educational savings accounts, I veto it,” Justice said. “The model is just not there.”

On the topic of charter schools, Justice also sided with the striking teachers, saying “I have said all along that I am not an advocate or a fan of charter schools, period. The reason that I am not is that I do not think our educational system today can afford it and I think that we need to do a whole lot more for public ed before we take on more of a load.”

Justice urged the striking teachers to go back to work tomorrow, at times seeming to plead with them, despite murmurs of disagreement from the back of the room where many of the striking union members gathered together.

Lily Kurfman, a 1st grade teacher from Monongalia County, said she hopes the bill disappears completely.

“Even though the bill was indefinitely tabled, we keep hearing that it could be called on again for further review, so we are not making any for sure moves until we find out what happens next,” Kurfman said.

Lori Woodrum, a preschool teacher of 19 years at Midway Elementary in Lincoln County said she feels the Senate, led by Republican Mitch Carmichael, is retaliating against teachers because of their nine-day strike last year.

“I love my kids, I love my job, but I can’t do it with the pay that I’m getting and everything that’s getting ready to come down,” Woodrum said.

In late February of last year, West Virginia teachers staged a nine-day strike, fighting for a pay raise and funding for their insurance company. The teachers received a 5 percent pay raise but failed to provide guarantees to control rising healthcare costs or a clear game plan on how to fully fund their insurance.

Woodrum also expressed hesitation believing what Gov. Justice said in the press conference.

“I don’t trust any politician,” she said, “Before the election, he said he had x amount of million dollars and was going to give the teachers another 5% raise. What happened to that after the election? Where is that money now?”

At a 7 p.m. EST press conference following the 6 p.m. Senate hearing, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said, “We believe that there is still a minute opportunity for something to happen, so with that being said all 55 counties will be closed again tomorrow” to resounding applause from striking teachers gathered in the capitol rotunda.

Joe White, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, said it was made clear from a conference call with their members that “the trust is not there. Our friends from the House of Delegates have sent a clear message to the Senate leadership and so are we.”

The American Federation of Teachers West Virginia chapter’s President Fred Albert said “we cannot trust the leadership in the Senate,” referring to Carmichael, “We are staying out one more day to ensure that this is a dead bill tomorrow.”

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