The leaders of the three teacher and service workers unions in the state have called on their local chapters to decide whether to support or oppose a job action to demonstrate opposition to the sweeping education reform bill under consideration in the state legislature.
The poll of the memberships asks for a “yes” or “no” vote on the following statement: “I authorize the state leadership of the AFT-WV, WVSSPA and WVEA to call a statewide work action should circumstances surrounding the Omnibus Education Bill merit such a work stoppage. And I further authorize the state leadership of the organizations to determine the appropriate time for that action to take place.”
The union leaders and many of the union members are angry with Senate Republicans, particularly Senate President Mitch Carmichael, over certain provisions of the bill, including allowing for the creation of charter schools and education savings accounts and the requirement that union members annually renew their union dues deductions from their paychecks. They also believe Carmichael is trying to punish the unions for last year’s strike.
The 2018 walkout enjoyed considerable public support. That backing, combined with the powerful demonstration by thousands of teachers and service workers at the State Capitol every day, forced Governor Justice and the legislature to approve a five percent pay raise and promise a long-term fix to PEIA.
However, the dynamic this year is very different. The controversial bill already includes several important benefits for school employees—another average five percent pay raise, the ability to bank unused sick days for a cash bonus at retirement and a $250 tax credit for school supplies paid for out-of-pocket.
Additionally, the bill includes flexibility to pay more to teachers in hard-to-fill positions and allows counties to keep more of their property tax money to help pay for school improvements and salary supplements. Meanwhile, Governor Justice has committed another $150 million to PEIA to hold down health care costs for school employees.
In short, education is getting a lot in this bill. Would teachers really want to strike over charter schools and education savings accounts? Would the public, once they know teachers are getting improvements in their salaries and benefits for the second year in row, be as sympathetic?
I don’t think so, nor should they be.
Anyone who has talked with a teacher understands their job is increasingly difficult. We are a poor state with an opioid crisis. Too many children come from homes where education is not valued. Teachers who say, “You have no idea what I go through every day” are right. Educators need our support as well as our empathy.
However, we also know that according to the Department of Education Scorecard released last year and the National Center for Educational Statistics report that we are underachieving in math, reading and English. Additionally, many of our schools have poor attendance.
Yes, the bill has a couple of provisions that unnecessarily poke the unions and their members in the eye. That can be cleaned up as the bill moves through the Legislature. Teachers and service workers need to give the process a chance to work and avoid a tactical mistake that will undermine the momentum of the “55 Strong” effort from last year by alienating a public that is unlikely to be as sympathetic this time around.