Strike 2: West Virginia teachers walking out again

Posted at 1:18 AM, Feb 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-19 01:18:39-05

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Nearly a year to the day after West Virginia teachers went on strike that launched a national "Red4Ed" movement, they're doing it again.

Unions have called a statewide walkout Tuesday over complicated education legislation that they view as lacking their input and as retaliation for last year's strike.

How long this one goes on will be a day-to-day decision, leaders of three unions for teachers and school service workers said at a news conference Monday.

"We are left with no other choice," said Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers' West Virginia chapter.

The 2018 walkout launched the national movement that included strikes in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona, Washington state, and more recently, Los Angeles and Denver. Teachers in Oakland, California, have authorized a strike starting Thursday.

Now the movement has come full circle.

Nearly all of West Virginia's 55 counties called off public school classes Tuesday.

The unions have said lawmakers never asked for their insight into what has become a rushed process in the Senate, which narrowly passed an amended bill Monday night. It now goes back to the House of Delegates.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said based on the Senate's actions, "it appears that they are more interested in listening to the outside interests than they are the educators across West Virginia.

"We will work as closely as we can to get a resolution, but at this point, there doesn't seem to be a resolution."

One sticking point has been a provision to create the state's first charter schools, which the unions believe would erode traditional public education but bill advocates say would give parents more school choices. Charter school laws have been enacted in 43 other states and Washington, D.C.

The Senate version would allow for up to seven charter schools statewide and provide for up to 1,000 education savings accounts for parents to pay for private school. The accounts would be for special needs students and those who have been bullied.

The House version does not call for such savings accounts and would limit charter schools to one each in Cabell and Kanawha counties.

Among other things, the Senate removed an earlier clause that would invalidate the entire legislation if any part is struck down.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael said the bill found a middle ground and has "great provisions." It would give teachers additional 5 percent pay raises on top of 5 percent raises they received after last year's strike.

Carmichael said the bill's goal is "getting our education system out of the doldrums."

"Why would anyone want to stand in the status quo and stay in the past?" he said.