During a press conference held Wednesday night, union officials representing West Virginia teachers called an official end to the teacher’s strike following the death of bill SB451, otherwise known as the omnibus education reform bill, in the state House of Delegates. Schools across the state reopened on Thursday morning after students had two days out of the classroom due to the work stoppage. This strike is the second one held by West Virginia teachers in a year, following one held last February over wage increases and issues with PEIA funding.
On Thursday morning, House Minority Leader Tim Miley stated, “I am pleased to announce that, pursuant to House Rule 58, SB 451 is officially dead and cannot be reconsidered during the current legislative session. The deadline has passed for us to reconsider our action on SB 451.”
“Based on the action taken today by the House of Delegates, SB451 has been tabled indefinitely,” said a press release issued by West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Paine. “Educator voices were clearly heard.”
Teachers unions opposed bill SB451, despite it containing a 5 percent pay increase for educators, due to provisions that would have allotted public dollars to fund charter schools and education savings accounts (ESAs). During the walkout on Tuesday, local teachers gathered in front of the Greenbrier Valley Mall to rally community support, and discussed their stance with passersby who had questions about the bill and their concerns.
Teachers explained how, if the bill were to go through, the educational savings accounts would be attached to each student, not to each school, so if a student were to begin homeschooling or transfer districts, their original school would lose that money. If enough kids were to seek alternative education with the help of an ESA, their old school would suffer the financial consequences and therefore have to potentially make staffing or other financial cuts.
Supporters of bill SB451 argue that other states have passed bills that help procure funds for charter schools, and believe that making other educational options a more financially viable choice for children would benefit them. However, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Fred Albert stated that, “We want our kids and their families to have strong, well-funded public schools, not charters and other privatized options that take away funding from public education,” pointing out that this bill would be helping charter schools while hurting public schools due to the nature of the bill.
“Funding for public school is essential for our students to succeed, and so are teacher voices,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “We thank the House of Delegates for seeing that and the governor for reinforcing it with his veto threat. Now, as we return to school, it’s time for both chambers and the governor to make good on the pre-election promise to provide a wage increase and the supports our kids need.”