West Virginia

West Virginia lawmakers out to punish educators for taking a stand

By Brenda Álvarez, this article originally appeared on NEAToday.org.
Photo: Craig Hudson/Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP

In October, the West Virginia Legislature promised to give educators a pay raise. It failed to deliver on that promise and so a special session was called to hash out the details. As many suspected, strings would be attached.

“Not exactly an earth-shattering revelation,” wrote Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, in an editorial in the Charleston Gazette-Mail, “but even we’re a little shocked at how far West Virginia’s [senate] has gone to punish public school teachers and service personnel for striking two years in a row to defend their livelihoods and the kids they teach.”

On June 3, the state senate narrowly passed an amendment to its Student Succeeds Act (S.B. 1039), which does include some provisions educators support, like providing more social workers, counselors, and nurses. But the bill also comes with a heavy dose of bitter pills: banning teacher strikes, removing local control from county superintendents to close school districts for a strike, canceling extracurricular activities during work stoppages, and docking the pay of teachers and staff who go on strike—or firing them altogether.

Additionally, the bill proposes an unlimited number of charter schools and diverts public dollars toward voucher programs.

“[T]he Student Success Act … [was] never about students at all,” Lee explained. “[T]his late addition is petty and vindictive, and probably what Senate President Mitch Carmichael … wants more than anything, after being embarrassed by the teachers, school service personnel, and their unions two years in a row.”

In 2018, WVEA members statewide went on strike for nine days, which lit the fire for #RedForEd across the U.S. Thirteen months later, they showed their power again with another work stoppage over charter expansion and vouchers.

West Virginians Ignored

The Student Success Act is similar to a previous senate bill (S.B. 451) that died in the house in February 2019. The main discord between the two chambers was over charter schools and vouchers.

Wendy Peters, an elementary school teacher, told MetroNews at the time, “Some folks in leadership are more beholden to these out-of-state interests, who have poured a lot of money into this,” she said. “They let charter school and education savings account (voucher) folks have three hours to answer and ask questions in the (Senate) Finance Committee, and then they gave the teachers, the principals, and the superintendents of the state 70 seconds (each),” referring to a February public hearing.

Peters may still be right.

Charters and vouchers are back in West Virginia and have even captured the attention of U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who tweeted her support for these unproven schemes.

We need to show up. I’m not going to be teaching all that many years more, but I care about the legacy I’m leaving behind for future educators and for the kids in the classrooms.” – John Quesenberry, West Virginia teacher

John Quesenberry, a civics and history teacher of nearly 31 years in Beckley, W.V., has taken note, saying that DeVos’s input only “strengthens our resolve to continue to stand for our kids because we don’t want what she did in Michigan to take a foothold here.”

“When it comes down to it, Betsy DeVos doesn’t have a vote in the legislature,” he says “and that’s what we’re fighting against: people from outside of the classroom and out-of-state special interests telling us (educators) what to do.”

While DeVos may not have a vote, West Virginians do.

Remember in November

This latest attack on educators is “stressful, but it also makes people angry that a handful of politicians can dictate what they want regardless of what the people say,” explains Quesenberry.

The West Virginia Department of Education recently produced a report the captures the public’s thoughts, opinions, concerns, and expectations about public education. Thousands of West Virginians shared their resounding support for increasing teachers’ compensation, more student support services, and addressing the math teacher shortage. Charters and vouchers we’re at the bottom of the priority list.

WVEA members, however, continue to organize and work with their allies. “Bridges have been built and people are working together…it’s empowering,” says Quesenberry, co-president of the Raleigh County Education Association.

Educators are now contacting their representatives and meeting with them face-to-face to push back against the provisions educators see as detrimental. They’re also organizing to show up to the state capitol on June 17, when the house is set to consider the Act.

“We need to show up,” says Quesenberry, “I’m not going to be teaching all that many years more, but I care about the legacy I’m leaving behind for future educators and for the kids in the classrooms.”

Despite the outcome on June 17, the work will continue, as educators have their sights on the November 2020 election.

Linda Pentz of the Monongalia County Education Association commented via Facebook, “It’s heartbreaking to watch leaders make such poor decisions for the children of WV. It is time for WV to take control of who is representing our state.”

Officials at WVEA echo this sentiment. “The issue will not go away as long as the same people remain in place,” says WVEA President Dale Lee.

9 responses to “West Virginia lawmakers out to punish educators for taking a stand

  1. As someone from Indiana, the poster child for charter and voucher laws, I tell you to fight Betsy DeVil and her privatization allies as much as you can now. The wolf slipped into our sheep pen and there is no getting rid of it once it’s inside.

    ALEC and your Republican legislators will start giving a disproportionate amount of the budget to these money making projects at the expense of your traditional schools. Then they will start labeling your current schools bad for students. Believe me. We are living it in Indiana.

    It’s much easier to keep the disease out than to fight it once it has a foothold inside.

  2. As a teacher who just ended a 14-day strike in Union City, CA, with my union, New Haven Teachers Association, my heart goes out to all the educators and the communities they serve who will suffer greatly from this shortsighted and draconian legislation. Good luck in your struggle and hopefully you can throw the bums out! In solidarity from California.

  3. The story has several misleading statements in it. There HAS been success With school voucher programs in several states, and a parent should have full control over where their child go to school and where their tax money goes. In a perfect world, public schools I honestly believe is the best option, but still a parent has the right to send their child where they want.
    Folks, this is not just a handful of politicians, just goes to basic parental rights. Parents should have full control over that all aspects of their child’s upbringing, not the state. We don’t need a federal department of education, we need to eliminate it now, and put that money back where I came from in the pockets of the parents. Local schools and public schools need to step up their game in some cases, not all. Job security should never be a case in education, you don’t get the scores you don’t stay in the job.
    Educators attempt to put their personal spin on what they teach students, bring a personal agenda into their classroom. It’s human nature. But what public education needs to focus on is very simple: what do we need to be successful in the classroom, cut central office staff, improving teacher salaries and health care, and getting the materials out students need to be successful in whatever they choose to do in life. If you want to be treated like a professional, act like it, dress like it, speak like it. Until that happens, ALL of us teachers lose.

    1. This comment is horrible! Parents have always been able to decide about their child’s education. A parent has always been able to chose to send their to a private school. The problem with charter schools and vouchers is that money is being taken away from traditional public school and not fully funding those traditional public schools. How can traditional public schools operate without proper funding. Also charter schools often have “teachers” that aren’t fully certified. Why would you want your child to be educated by someone who isn’t a certified teacher? Would you go see a doctor or dentist who isn’t certified? I’m tired of individuals making decisions about education who have no idea how the institution operates! Most legislators are very ignorant about what a child needs to be educated. Ask the educao what is needed! Pay them a decent salary. Fund education properly! If you believe in education, believe in it at a high level financially!

    2. Did you just compare teacher performance to test scores? You seriously have no point of reference or experience therefore your comment is completely ignorant. Testing our children does not and never will provide a definitivly accurate picture of who our children are as learners. Standardized testing, pre-packaged instructional programs and methodology fads shouldn’t be the foundation for teaching and measuring student success or teacher effectiveness. Maybe we need to give you a test to see how effective you are as a man, human, parent, etc. Would you meet the mark? And if not, should you be terminated? That isn’t even how things happen in occupations outside education so why are educators held to a different standard? Spend a week with a teacher and maybe you’ll see things differently.

  4. It is time for the parents and communities to come out in front of the teachers . They must carry the water with the teachers and hold their legislators accountable. I hope the educators put out an all call for election day in your state for supporters to come and help. I WILL BE THERE!

  5. It’s a real shame that the Republican Senators are so DEAF DUMB AND BLIND that they insist on pushing legislation that the people DO NOT WANT. ITS OUR

  6. I am a retired teacher but still worry about the kids in WV schools. I have grandchildren that are in WV schools.

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