W.Va. teachers' unions call for strike over education bill
By JOHN RABY
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia teachers' unions on Monday called a statewide strike over an education bill that they view as lacking their input and as retaliation for a walkout last year.
The strike is scheduled to start Tuesday, leaders of three unions for teachers and school service workers said at a news conference, almost a year to the day after teachers started a nine-day walkout.
"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 "Red4Ed" 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.
Both the state Senate and House of Delegates have approved separate and far different versions of the complex bill, but both call for creating the state's first charter schools. The unions believe charter schools will erode traditional public schools.
After the strike call, the Senate passed an amendment to its bill 18-16 Monday night. The unions have said lawmakers never asked for their insight into what has become a rushed process in the Senate.
West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said that upon watching 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."
Earlier Monday, Sen. Patricia Rucker, a Jefferson County Republican, moved to adopt the Senate's amended version before senators even had a chance to read changes to the bill, prompting Democrats to protest. The Senate later adjourned for more than an hour to enable senators to catch up.
"Why are we pushing it through with about 10 minutes of advance notice?" said Michael Romano, a Harrison County Democrat. "Here we are with no time to digest it."
Among other things, 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.
Proponents say the moves would give parents more school choices. Charter school laws have been enacted in 43 states and Washington, D.C
The House version does not call for such savings accounts and would limit charter schools to one each in Cabell and Kanawha counties.
Like the House, the Senate has removed a clause that would invalidate the entire legislation if any part is struck down. It also removed language requiring teacher pay to be withheld during a strike as long as the school calendar is unaffected.
"We are watching this hour by hour," Albert said.
Sen. Craig Blair, a Berkeley County Republican, said the bill includes more than $66 million to directly help teachers and school service workers.
"Change is never easy in West Virginia," he said. "This is the right thing to do. At this moment in time, this is exactly the right thing to do to get a better education outcome for our students."
Teachers won a 5 percent pay raise after last year's strike. The current legislation calls for similar raises.
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