CHARLESTON, W.Va. — American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten says the Republican majority in the West Virginia State Senate should take a cue from what the AFT has been able to do in McDowell County when it comes to education reform.

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Weingarten was on the picket lines with WV teachers in 2018 and earlier this year.

“We’ve actually done these things within the public school system and we’ve actually done these things with people in the community, with teachers, with community members, with students, not trying to impose something that takes money out,” Weingarten said.

She visited Charleston Wednesday to meet with the state Board of Education. Weingarten said she wanted to update the board on the success of the Reconnecting McDowell program with all the talk of education reform and the Senate-passed Student Success Act.

Weingarten, who walked picket lines with West Virginia teachers the past two years, said AFT and its partners have been able to meet the emotional and social needs of McDowell County students while engaging them in the instruction they need.

Weingarten, during an appearance Wednesday on MetroNews “Talkline,” prior to her remarks before the state board, said she’s baffled by Senate President Mitch Carmichael’s continued push for charter schools when school communities have spoken loud and clear.

“When you hear people in West Virginia talk all the time about they don’t charters, they want to strengthen public schools, then why on earth would Senator Carmichael want to do something that’s so antithetical to what residents want,” Weingarten said.

The Student Success Act includes a provision for unlimited public charter schools. Opponents cite survey information taken from more than a half dozen education forums showing a majority of respondents against the option. Weingarten said that’s what matters.

“The threshold issue is–not does the Koch brothers want them, not does Betsy DeVos want them, the threshold issue is do parents and communities want them? What you’re hearing, big time, is no, no, no, in a bipartisan way,” Weingarten said.

Reconnecting McDowell, which was founded in 2011, is made up more than 120 public and private partners, and has the backing of the American Federation of Teachers. Its goals include educational support and economic revitalization in McDowell County.

Jason Huffman, the state director of West Virginia’s Americans for Prosperity chapter, criticized Weingarten’s remarks, saying more options in education are needed to improve student performance.

“Our education system is in need of reform – to improve BOTH educators and students’ educational experience. Our education system is ranked second to last and our teachers are feeling underpaid and overworked. Defenders of the status quo should listen to countless families who simply want to give their child access to an education that fits their needs,” he said.

“The Student Success Act and Education Savings Account Act represent the greatest opportunity lawmakers have had to improve our K-12 education for every student. We can’t do the same things and expect different results. Lawmakers should get this done now and not stand in the way of proven educational opportunity for hundreds of thousands of students and families.”

Weingarten admitted on “Talkline” Reconnecting McDowell runs sort of like a charter school and AFT supports charter schools in other places around the country. She said there’s one key difference, they’re wanted.

“By every measure you can assess it, the answer is they want to strengthen public schools and they want the already limited resources to be increased and to go to the strategies that frankly we used in McDowell,” Weingarten said.

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