Teachers and school workers rally with AFT President against Senate’s education bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Deja Vu is what teachers and school workers said they were experiencing on Tuesday at Capital High School.

Hundreds of teachers and service personnel rallied outside of the school in Charleston alongside AFT President Randi Weingarten and AFT WV President Fred Albert in opposition of Senate Bill 451, the education reform bill.

The statewide work stoppage, that was called for Monday night by teacher unions in the state, is the second in just over a year as teachers and service personnel held an 9-day strike during the 2018 Legislative Session.

“What’s different about this year is it is not about us, it’s about our students,” Melissa Huffman, a teacher at Clendenin Elementary School said. “What the legislature is trying to do is not good for students, not good for West Virginia.

“All students in West Virginia have the right to a good quality public education and what they are doing is not good quality public education.”

The large education reform bill sees many layers but charter schools and educational savings accounts are the two most prominent provisions that educators are against. The state Senate received the House’s version of the bill on Monday, which included only two charter schools and rolled back other provisions. Senate leadership, led by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, introduced an amendment that includes 1,000 education savings accounts and up to seven charter schools.

“You are the voice of the people, you are the voice of public education,” Weingarten said as she stood with the teachers and service personnel. “You are the voice of this country. Mitch Carmichael cannot talk that voice away and that is why we are on the streets today.”

“This is a time we focus on public education. This is a time we recognize our teachers and bus drivers as heroes for standing up last year. This is not a time we take a wrecking ball to public education.”

Horace Mann Middle teacher Brian Vannoy was one of the hundreds at Capital High School and said charter schools will hurt public education.

“Our schools are the heart of our community and we think charter schools will take away funding that our students need,” he said. “We think it is not right. We think they want to make a profit off of education money and our students deserve better than that.”

The bill includes a pay raise for teachers of 5-percent, tax credit for school supplies, and changes in school attendance. Weingarten said teachers are willing forgo a couple of positives for themselves to stand up for the children.

“Teachers have said the values are more important of making sure that public education is a priority in this state. Funding public education and don’t siphon money out of it. Don’t take away our voices. They are saying that that is more important that getting a raise.”

Many educators and educational leaders across the state have criticized the legislature on the bill because they have not been heard and have felt left out of the process of making the bill in the first place.

“Come to the classrooms, see what we deal with on a daily basis,” John Adams Middle teacher Michelle Cottrill said at Capital High School. “I have a kid this year whose parent both have died of a drug overdose and she’s supposed to come to school and be a good test score? That just infuriates me.”

The hundreds of educators left Capital High School and headed to the state Capitol to join hundreds of other teachers from around the state. 54 of 55 counties in the state closed school on Tuesday with Putnam County remaining open. There is no word how long the work stoppage will last.

“Rather than listening to the will of the people,” Weingarten said. “Rather than listening to West Virginians want. What they did is say is say that they know better, the rich folks know better, the people who want to kill public education know better. That is why frankly, all of you are out today.”

“You are at storming the Capitol, being in front of them, telling truth to the power to say ‘No we need public education.'”

The House of Delegates is currently taking up the new Senate’s version of the bill as of early Tuesday afternoon. Governor Jim Justice said on Tuesday’s MetroNews ‘Talkline’ that he would veto the Senate’s education bill.

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