A work action has been initiated today in West Virginia, and all county schools (save one) are closed because of a really bad education bill that the Senate is trying to ram through:
A little less than a year since the start of West Virginia’s first statewide public school workers strike, leaders of the state’s three major school employee unions called Monday evening for another strike to begin, starting Tuesday, over the education overhaul bill.
All but one of West Virginia’s 54 countywide public school systems canceled school Tuesday. The outlier was Putnam County, which is among West Virginia’s wealthier counties and is near the state Capitol.
“We are taking action,” said Fred Albert, president of the West Virginia branch of the American Federation of Teachers union. “We are left no other choice, but, as of tomorrow, we are calling a statewide strike.”
He briefly referenced that he’s been told there’s support in the House of Delegates for a version of the bill that the unions oppose.
Long story short, the Republican led legislature in the state, which did not even mention “comprehensive education reform” as a legislative priority before the session started, has been up to their usual bullshit. Sen. Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, who is as wingnutty as they come, was dead set on retribution for last year’s strike, so some heretofore relatively unknown Senator introduced a piece of ALEC written legislation with all sorts of nonsense, to include charter schools, union-busting, and a whole sort of stuff that had no chance in the House of Delegates.
The Senate, being the Senate, passed it anyway despite the fact that Republicans in the House said they hated it, the Republican governor said he would veto it as is, and virtually everyone who has ever worked in or works in education said the bill is horrible. It then went to the House of Delegates, which promptly stripped most of the crap (you can get a good look at the changes here) and passed it with a bipartisan majority. It was then sent back to the Senate.
Once back in the Senate, they promptly went back to putting all the crap back into it, including jacking up the number of charter schools, removing a provision that said legislators can not profit off charter schools, and reincluding measures to punish unions and prohibit striking. The Senate Republicans refused to allow the minority party to see the bill, and wanted to rush a vote for last night, but there was so much outrage that the votes were postponed until today. It’s a bad bill, but these are Republicans and don’t give a shit. My Senator, William Ihlenfeld (you might remember I volunteered for him and we fundraised for him) put it this way:
Last night, the comprehensive education reform bill was amended by a 18-16 vote and now will go back to the House of Delegates for consideration. Changes from the most recent House version include the increase of charter schools from 2 to 7 and putting ESAs back in after they had been removed. The amendment (130+ pages worth) was worked on all weekend by the majority without any input from the minority, and then provided to everyone 10 minutes before we were asked to vote. This is not how government is supposed to work but it is how the West Virginia Senate operates in 2019.
I voted against the Senate Amendment because of the expansion of the charter schools provision, the addition of ESAs, the uncertainty of what else was in the amendment (even the lead sponsor admitted she hadn’t read all of what was being proposed), the lack of real input from West Virginians, and the oversized influence from outside interests like ALEC and the the Koch brothers-funded Institute for Justice. We don’t need outsiders to tell us how to run our system of education in West Virginia but that’s what has happened with SB 451.
The House Version that was passed last week wasn’t perfect but it was much better than the mess of a bill that the Senate passed out originally. What the House sent back to us was a gift and Senate leadership should have accepted it and said thank you. Instead, they refused it, and added back in much of the garbage that the House had removed.
I’m hearing that the House of Delegates may have the votes to pass the Senate version but that the margin is very slim. I encourage you to contact your representatives to let them know how you feel. Make sure that your voice is heard as you may be able to persuade those who are on the fence.
If you are an educator and will be in Charleston today, please stop by my office in W-229 and say hello. If you need a place to put your jacket, charge your cell phone, or fuel up (I have lots of candy), my office is your office. I hope to see many of you today at the Capitol, and despite what the Putnam superintendent did, we are still #55Strong.
We’ll see what happens next. Now we have to watch as the legislature tries to ram through campus carry over the objection of every educator and educational establishment in the state.