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West Virginia was the first site of the Red for Ed teachers’ movement. The teachers of the state captured national attention for their statewide strike. Their strike included a number of issues, not only salaries and health care, but also charter schools. Teachers correctly saw them as a means of diverting funding from public schools. They wanted well-resourced public schools. But given the GOP dominance of the legislature, the charter supporters demanded charter legislation, and the best the teachers could was to limit their number.
Now, in the middle of the pandemic, the GOP is coming back with both charter and voucher legislation. The bills are advancing rapidly and teachers can’t mass their numbers in the Capitol due to restrictions on access.
CHARLESTON — Bills on schedule to pass the state House of Delegates this week would allow faster charter school expansion, promote online charter schools and give parents public money for non-public schooling.
It’s just the second week of the legislative session.
Fresh off their first statewide strike a year earlier, public school workers in 2019 shut down classrooms again to oppose an omnibus education bill that, among many other things, would’ve legalized charter schools and vouchers to provide public money for private- and home-schooling.
The effort staved off vouchers and limited charter schools to no more than three until July 1, 2023. County boards of education also were generally given veto power over charters.
This time, facing a Republican governor paired with Republican supermajorities in both legislative chambers, state public school worker unions are taking a more cautious approach.
“Maybe fight is not the best word, but to support our stand,” said Fred Albert, president of the state branch of the American Federation of Teachers, “and we’ve said this a million times: Elections have consequences. And we’ve always been about trying to elect friends of public education and people who support public education … [W]e know it’s going to be an uphill battle…”
Time to stop the bills appeared to be running out three days into the session. Perhaps it ran out in November.
By just Day Two of the session, House Republicans had already advanced charter school and voucher bills from the House Education Committee, which has been the graveyard of previous union-opposed legislation. The House Finance Committee passed the vouchers bill Saturday.
If the full House passes the bills, they head to the Senate, where there has historically been even more support for such legislation. A simple majority can override a gubernatorial veto...
Other factors could be affecting workers’ ability to combat the legislation. Many have borne personal tolls from the pandemic.
“People are dying,” White said. He said he confirmed Thursday five of his union members had died.
“I think people are feeling overwhelmed with the pandemic,” Albert said. “There’s a lot of fear out there for their own health and safety and for their children and classrooms.”
Teachers and others also have waged wearying battles over mandated returns to classrooms.
“I think people are exhausted from the fights over school reopening,” said Jay O’Neal, a teacher at West Side Middle who helped galvanize the 2018 and 2019 strikes.
A perfect time to sabotage public schools and their teachers, when everyone is 3xhausted.