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W.Va. Teachers Hold Vigil as Lawmakers Debate Education Bill

Teachers and supporters gather on the steps of the Capitol Wednesday, Feb.13, 2019, to oppose the education omnibus bill.
Kara Lofton
West Virginia Public Broadcasting
Teachers and supporters gather on the steps of the Capitol Wednesday, Feb.13, 2019, to oppose the education omnibus bill.

West Virginia teachers and school administrators who are opposed to an education bill held a candlelight vigil outside the state Capitol on Wednesday night while the House of Delegates met in a marathon debate.

The House had more than 30 amendments to the complex bill on its agenda.

Unions representing teachers and school service workers say the legislation is in retaliation for last year’s nine-day strike, when teachers won a 5 percent pay raise.

“We must be vigilant,” Joe White, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, told the crowd outside.

Dozens of people cheered at the vigil upon learning the House had rejected one of several amendments addressing the establishment of charter schools. House committees in recent days adopted a proposal to limit charters schools to one each in Cabell and Kanawha counties.

The Senate passed its version of the bill last week. It would have no limit on the number of charter schools statewide. Proponents say it would give parents more school choices.

At the vigil, Tyler County schools Superintendent Robin Daquilante urged the Legislature “to stop using our children as pawns in your political arena. Please do what’s right for the students of West Virginia in public education.”

Among other amendments adopted by the House on Wednesday, one would boost police presence in schools. Another would give a $1,000 bonus to teachers who miss four or fewer days of work each school year.

Both the House and Senate versions would give teachers and school service personnel additional 5 percent pay raises.

On Saturday, the unions announced the authorization of a statewide action, if needed, in response to the legislation. The unions did not specify when or what type of action would be taken.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee told the crowd that “this bill is not about improving our schools.”

Senate President Mitch Carmichael has said a main intent of the bill is to improve student test scores and performances.

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