West Virginia teachers on Wednesday night ended their second strike in less than a year. Teachers will return to class Thursday, unions said.
Hundreds of angry, chanting teachers had jammed the upper Rotunda of the West Virginia Statehouse Wednesday. Their goal: ensuring lawmakers would not try to tie a raise for teachers to funds for the state’s first charter schools. The House of Delegates killed that proposal Tuesday, but teachers had worried it could re-emerge.
“Educators agreed to return to their classes on Thursday. The House killed the Senate bill, and it should stay dead,” said AFT-West Virginia President Fred Albert late Wednesday. “The public wants the ‘public’ in public education.”
Putnam County schools was the only system out of the state’s 55 counties to hold classes Wednesday.
Across the state, charity groups scrambled to provide lunches and child care for students who suddenly had no school to attend.
The second day of the strike mirrored the statewide walkout last year in which protesters poured into the statehouse to demand – and win – a 5 percent raise for teachers and service workers.
That strike, jarring in the largely conservative state, triggered a nationwide movement by teachers who walked out shortly afterward in Oklahoma and Arizona, followed this year by strikes in Los Angeles and Denver. On Thursday, teachers plan to strike in Oakland, California.
In West Virginia, another 5 percent raise was included in this year’s omnibus education bill making its way through the Legislature. But that was effectively killed by the House after the Senate added amendments that would have provided funds for seven charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed. Teachers argue that would drain money from public schools.
As passions increased, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, called on lawmakers Tuesday to pass his “clean” 5 percent pay raise bill and effectively drop Senate additions, the Martinsburg Journal-News reported.
A House committee was set to take up the bill again Wednesday that would also boost the pay of school service workers and state police.
“I’m calling upon you to go back to work,” Justice said in a message to teachers and service workers. “Go back to work right now. Go back to work tomorrow. Give this process now a chance to really work. You’ve voiced your concerns.”
But leaders of three unions that represent teachers and school service workers said they have trust issues with lawmakers and believe there’s still a chance for more alterations of the complex legislation.
Randi Weingarten, national president of the American Federation of Teachers, said teachers essentially were prepared to abandon their raises to block additions to the education bill they strongly oppose.
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She charged that the Senate added “retaliatory” amendments that were anti-public education and anti-teacher.
“That is why teachers all across West Virginia – bus drivers, school secretaries, para-professionals – have converged on Charleston, because they don’t have a choice,” Weingarten said, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “The only time there was a real focus on public education by the Republicans in this state was when there was a walkout last year.”
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