West Virginia Teacher Unions Plan Saturday Protests as Senate Readies Work on Education Reform

May 29, 2019

With West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael planning to address public education during a one-day special legislative session this weekend, leaders of teacher unions are gearing up to have their members at the Capitol.

 

A Senate spokeswoman says Carmichael and his members will begin work at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 1, to consider the 144-page “Student Success Act.”

 

The bill would boost school employee pay, create an open enrollment policy for counties, provide mental health training for teachers and allow for charter schools, among other reforms.

 

Leaders of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association have called on their members to be there as the “Student Success Act” is being considered.

 

The groups are opposed to some of the bill’s proposals, including charter schools, a change to how layoffs would be considered and withholding pay during a strike.

 

West Virginia Education Association president Dale Lee said he hopes action on Saturday sends a message to those in leadership.

 

“It says that educators are watching and they feel as though Senator Carmichael and his cronies are listening to outside interests rather than the people of West Virginia,” Lee said. “West Virginians have made it clear -- 88 percent are against charter schools.”

 

But once Saturday rolls along, that protest will be different than similar actions held in recent years. Earlier this year, teachers across the state walked off the job to oppose Senate Bill 451 -- a long, sweeping and controversial bill that ultimately failed. With schools now out for the summer around the state, a rally wouldn’t be a strike, but rather a show of force on their own time.

 

“I think it’s always impactful when you see faces of people who are going to be affected by legislation if it is considered or passed,” AFT-West Virginia president Fred Albert said. “There is nothing that takes the place of human contact and having people be there with their bodies and spirits.”

 

Senate Democrats unveiled their own, separate proposals for an education overhaul earlier this month. Their emphasis is on mental health services, teacher pay and vocational training. Democrats have called on Carmichael and the Republican majority to to consider each proposed reform on its own merit.

 

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw split his chamber into four select committees on education during a one-day return to the Capitol last week. He’s said the House will not return to work until June 17, which would overlap with interim committee meetings.

 

With the House delaying action on education, Lee said he doesn’t understand Carmichael’s timing and intention of a quick session.

 

“I’m stunned that he wants to complete it in a day. You would think he would wait until interims when the House was in,” he said. “Or, you would think he would separate the bill and deal with the things that could be be passed and deal with the contentious items later.”

 

With the House waiting until June, union leaders such as Albert say they are ready to keep them engaged and block Carmichael’s bill from moving forward.

 

“If the House doesn’t come back in until later in June, I would imagine our members would want to be there,” Albert said. “I wouldn’t expect them to lose their desire to be involved.”

 

Carmichael has scheduled a Thursday morning press conference to discuss the Student Success Act.

 Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that charter schools would be limited to four. In fact, public higher education institutions would be limited to authorizing four charter schools. County school boards would not be limited in the number of charter schools they could authorize.