West Virginia teacher strike heads into second day in charter schools fight

Walkout affected 700 schools, 277,000 students

West Virginia teacher strike heads into second day in charter schools fight
Striking West Virginia teachers and legislators celebrate minutes after lawmakers reject a bill that would have opened the first charter schools in the state, at the Capitol building in Charleston, on Feb. 19. REUTERS/Lexi Browning

CHARLESTON (Reuters) — A union for West Virginia teachers carried its strike into a second day on Wednesday, despite a retreat by the state legislature on one of their key demands.

Union leaders vowed to continue the strike after the House of Delegates voted 53-45 to effectively kill legislation opposed by the union that would have opened the first charter schools in the state.

The bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate on Monday, prompting labour unions to call a strike that closed most of the state’s 700 schools, which serve 277,000 students. Governor Jim Justice, a Republican, vowed to veto it.

Despite the defeated legislation, union officials on Tuesday cited concerns lawmakers who support the bill might try to revive it.

As a result, West Virginia teachers on Wednesday will converge on the State Capitol building in Charleston for “one more day to make sure there are no legislative antics,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Fred Albert, president of the labour group’s state chapter, said in a statement.

On Thursday, several thousand teachers in Oakland are expected to strike over charter school accountability and a plan to close several schools that serve black and Latino students. Teachers in Oakland are also asking for raises and more nurses and guidance counselors.

Teachers in West Virginia took to picket lines around the state and at the State Capitol on Tuesday to oppose the bill. Justice called on the state legislature at a news conference on Tuesday to provide pay raises for state employees, including teachers, and urged educators to return to work.

Charter schools are publicly funded but operated by private groups. Their advocates say the schools offer parents a wider array of educational opportunities for their children.

West Virginia is one of only six U.S. states that has not passed laws to allow for charter schools, according to non-profit research group, the Education Commission of the States.

Critics of charter schools say they benefit profit-driven private organizations and that some of them oppose organized labour.

The American Federation of Teachers called the bill an act of retaliation for a strike last March that secured higher pay for teachers in West Virginia. That strike was followed by similar actions in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Last year’s nine-day strike ended with the teachers securing a five per cent pay rise in West Virginia, home to some of the lowest-paid educators in the country.

Latest stories