Archives for category: West Virginia

Denis Smith went to graduate school in West Virginia and served as an elementary and middle school principal, director of curriculum, and director of federal programs in the suburban school system adjacent to the state capital. He subsequently moved to Ohio, where he was in charge of overseeing the state’s burgeoning and scandal-ridden charter sector. He wrote a warning to West Virginia, published in the state’s major newspaper, about its new charter law and what is likely to happen. It won’t be pretty.

He said that charters will not be accountable. They will divert money from the state’s public schools, while doing whatever it takes (campaign contributions?) to avoid academic and financial accountability.

He pointed out that the people of West Virginia will lose local control of their schools, as national charter chains move in.

Consider the irony that the leader of the founding coalition of the proposed West Virginia Academy is a professor of accounting. But then we should also know that, when it comes to all things related to charter school accounting and accountability, nothing adds up. Add to that the fact that these schools are free from many sections of state law, including school boards that are directly elected by the public. For example, in Ohio, where I live, charter schools are exempt from 140 sections of the state code.

Keep in mind that charter boards are hand-picked, selected by the companies that manage the school, where school governance by design is not accountable to the voters…

As a former resident of West Virginia and a school administrator in West Virginia and Ohio, it is my hope that the citizens of the Mountain State might learn from the mistakes of Ohio, which bears the distinction of having a refuse pile containing the wreckage of nearly 300 closed charter schools, some of which received funding but never opened, emitting a rancid, overpowering odor, a byproduct of bad public policy.

And speaking about waste, Ohio has spent more than $4 billion on the charter school experiment so far, an exercise that is hell-bent on using public funds for private purposes while skirting transparency and accountability requirements.

Smith asks the people of the state:

Are West Virginians, exploited for generations by energy companies, in favor of selling off their public schools?

State Senator Mike Romano of West Virginia wrote an article about the hoax of charter schools, which will cost the state’s public schools hundreds of millions of dollars without improving education.

He wrote:

In the shadows of Covid, bills have passed during the 2021 Legislative session that will move West Virginia backwards. From the weakening or elimination of state licensing for electricians, plumbers, crane operators, elevator technicians, among others, to the weakening of drinking water standards, to creating a new layer of government with an Intermediate Court that no one wants (except insurance companies), which will cost tens of millions of tax dollars every year.

As bad as those bills are, no bill has the potential to damage our collective future or waste more of our tax dollars than charter schools. The obsession of the Republican Majority with charter schools and private school vouchers could result in the loss of nearly one-half of our public school funding.

Charter schools have mixed results around the country, at best. Ohio lost $4 billion on charters and rural states have had almost no success. In 2019, county boards of education were permitted to approve applications for and oversee charter schools preserving local control of education. The bill passed this Session eliminates local oversight by creating a new board, appointed by the governor, to approve charter schools regardless of the will of the citizens. Local control and oversight of public education have ended.

In-person charter schools are limited to 10 percent of each county’s public school population, but, as bad as that could be for public schools, the bill also authorizes two statewide virtual charter schools for up to another 10 percent of the statewide public school population. Those numbers should be alarming. If in-person and virtual charter schools take just half of the permitted public school students (10 percent), more than $200 million will be taken from public school budgets every year with little accountability. Although the charter school itself may be not-for-profit, in a clever ruse, for-profit Education Service Providers or ESPs can be hired to run it with our tax dollars.

Most important, virtual charters will receive the same amount of money (around $7,400 per student) as in-person charters, yet virtual classes are conducted over the internet without the need for school buildings, desks, cafeterias, janitors, liability insurance and all other costs of a brick and mortar school. Virtual charters won’t even hire the same number of teachers. In Florida, for example, each virtual charter teacher instructed over 250 students. Profits will be the priority and staggering. Someone’s pocket is getting lined with tax dollars and no one cared.

Amazingly, the Republican Majority did not know that more than $200 million in public school tax dollars were being shifted to private, for-profit ESPs if charters take just one-half of the students permitted under the bill. According to the State Board of Education, more than 6,000 public school teachers and service personnel would lose their jobs as a result. If the teacher/student ratio in virtual charters is like Florida, 50 teachers will replace over 3,000 public school educators and staff, most of whom will leave the state. Add the $130 million being taken from the public school system for the Republicans’ private school voucher program, and the public school system could evaporate.

As West Virginia ventures into this great unknown, the negatives have not even been acknowledged let alone considered. For example the effects on high school sports of the loss of 20 percent of the public school population would be devastating. Undoubtedly, student-athletes will go to charter or private schools and not play for their local teams. Coaches will lose their jobs or be required to take on additional responsibilities to keep their jobs. Every dollar that goes to a charter school student is eliminated from our public schools, which will reduce funds for facilities, uniforms, medical care, and other sports-related needs. The loss will be felt by every school.

While the legacy of the Republican majority has been one of voting contrary to facts, their obsession with charter schools in our state has led to a grand deception. They have underfunded public education for years. They now claim it’s broken and, in a move to defend it, preach school choice. The smart course, given the majority’s obsession for charter schools and vouchers, would be a slow march with common sense limits on in-person charter schools and, more important, on the number of students allowed to attend virtual charters. Unfortunately, those limits were eliminated under pressure from Senate Republican leadership.

Public schools are the backbone of our nation, providing a future for our children, but the Majority’s plan will make public schools a place for those not lucky enough – or rich enough – to escape. It will be a modern form of segregation, and we all will pay the price when undereducated students become unproductive adults.

Republicans in West Virginia passed a dramatic voucher bill that allows people to spend public education funds on almost anything. Governor Jim Justice, a billionaire, signed the bill into law.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Saturday signed into law the bill that school-choice advocates say will implement the nation’s broadest nonpublic school vouchers program.

Programs in other states are limited to low-income, special-needs or other subsets of students, or have caps on the number of recipients in general. But West Virginia’s program will be open to all K-12 students, including by offering public money to families who already don’t use the public school system.

Effective beginning in the 2022-23 school year, families who withdraw their children from public schools can receive a currently estimated $4,600 per-student, per-year for private- and home-schooling expenses. Families also may receive the money for newly school-aged children whom they never want to go to public schools.

Republican supermajorities passed this legislation (House Bill 2013) without a single Democrat vote.

Democrats raised concern about its effect on public schools, which have been losing students annually since 2012, dropping from about 282,300 children that year to 261,600 in fall 2019 and, after the coronavirus pandemic hit, 252,400 in fall 2020.

State funding for public schools is largely based on enrollment, and children leaving them take that money with them to home- and private-schooling in the form of these vouchers.

The West Virginia Department of Education’s operations officer has said she expects public schools to retain most of their federal funds, plus any local excess levy property tax revenue, regardless. Some counties don’t have school excess levies.

Parents could use these vouchers for a nearly unlimited list of educational expenses, including online education programs, tutoring, books and private schooling, whether religious or secular. The vast majority of West Virginia private schools are Christian, but the bill doesn’t prohibit using the money for out-of-state boarding schools or other private, out-of-state education providers.

The legislation (House Bill 2013) has a trigger that will automatically be pulled if participation in the program isn’t above 5% of the statewide public school enrollment within the program’s first two years. If that’s the case, then, starting July 1, 2026, parents of all current nonpublic school children will be able to get the vouchers.

But whether that is triggered or not, the fact that the program offers the vouchers to parents of rising kindergarteners so they can avoid public schools in the first place means it eventually will be open to all who intended to avoid public schools all along.

Estimates from two state agencies projected that — aside from the roughly $22 million to $24 million in annual funding the program will shift from public schools to fund vouchers for students who are anticipated to leave public schools — the program’s biggest financial effect will be about $103 million annually in new state funding that will be required to subsidize those who weren’t going to public schools anyway.

There are an estimated 22,300 private- and home-school students in West Virginia.

Comparable private-/home-school voucher programs in other states, dubbed “education savings accounts” (ESAs) despite them generally being funded by the state instead of a family’s own investments, are far more limited than West Virginia’s program.

Read the rest of the story. Voucher zealots are thrilled.
West Virginia is hurtling rapidly backward into the nineteenth century.

The West Virginia legislature is rushing–like other red states–to pass voucher legislation. They know that very few students will apply for vouchers but that the cost will be enormous. West Virginia Republicans want to have the most expansive voucher bill in the nation (they are competing with New Hampshire and Arizona to supply everyone with the chance to use public money to attend a private or religious school).

However, the House Republicans decided to slow down when they saw how much their proposal would cost. And, they also noted that students can get a voucher not to “escape failing public schools,” but to pay for the religious school they already attend. In other words, the “voucher program” would be simply a subsidy to the 25,000 students already in private/religious schools and in home school. And it would cost $112 million a year to subsidize students whose parents are currently paying for them. And this money would be diverted from the state’s public schools, which enroll the vast majority of students.

Ryan Quinn of the Charleston Gazette-Mail writes:

After passing what could be the nation’s least-restrictive nonpublic school vouchers bill Thursday — one that would give every family in West Virginia money to private- and home-school their children if they want to remove them from public schools — the West Virginia House of Delegates recalled the bill.

On Friday, in a voice vote with no dissent heard, the Republican-controlled House recanted its passage vote of the day before. Delegates then sent the legislation (House Bill 2013) back to the House Finance Committee.

The West Virginia Senate had yet to pass the bill. House leadership indicated that it plans to fix issues with the bill and pass it again.

House Finance Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, said the reason for the move was a fiscal note he saw Thursday night.

“That’s why I decided to let people know what I discovered, what I read,” he said. “And now we’ve also asked [the Department of] Education to prepare a fiscal note, too. So, just trying to do the right thing, cover our bases, make sure everything is right.”

However, the state Division of Regulatory and Fiscal Affairs said the note was posted on the Legislature’s website on or before 11 a.m. Wednesday — so lawmakers could have seen it before voting Thursday.

Fiscal notes estimate how much bills will cost, but Republicans had rushed this bill to passage by just the end of the second week of this year’s legislative session.

The problem Householder cited is connected to the fact that the bill doesn’t specify how long parents must have their students enrolled in public schools to be eligible to receive the estimated $4,600 per-student, per-year to withdraw them and start private- or home-schooling.

“Based on our interpretation of the eligibility criteria, a parent of a student currently in private- or home-schooling could enroll their child in a summer public school program, making them eligible to apply for the Hope Scholarship Program,” the fiscal note said, referring to another name for the bill. “Alternatively, they could enroll their child in the public school system to become eligible. As this would introduce new students into the eligible population, it has the potential to substantially increase costs.”

The voucher for that amount is required to go to educational expenses, although that term is very broad in the bill.

Lawmakers had allowed for this cost increase by making the bill ultimately pay the $4,600 per-student, per-year for families who were currently home-schooling or private-schooling anyway. But they had added a provision saying those payments wouldn’t happen until fiscal year 2026-27 — the fiscal note said such costs could arrive much earlier.

“Based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics, there have been an average of 14,285 private-school students in West Virginia from 2003 to 2017, with no clear increase or decrease over time,” the fiscal note says. “For home-schooled students, we estimate approximately 10,000.

“Assuming current private- and home-school enrollment is similar, and assuming all of these students use one of these methods for becoming eligible for the Hope Scholarship, this could increase the cost of the program to the state by $112,300,882.65 per fiscal year, again assuming no increase in statewide average net state aid allotted per pupil.”

The note points out another potential problem with the likely unprecedented scope of the voucher program. Householder didn’t mention this issue, which is more fundamental to the bill.

The note said its participation estimates of 1% to 3% of current public school students that it used for calculating costs, even if the other problem were fixed, are based on the five states that have this kind of voucher program.

West Virginia was the first site of the Red for Ed teachers’ movement. The teachers of the state captured national attention for their statewide strike. Their strike included a number of issues, not only salaries and health care, but also charter schools. Teachers correctly saw them as a means of diverting funding from public schools. They wanted well-resourced public schools. But given the GOP dominance of the legislature, the charter supporters demanded charter legislation, and the best the teachers could was to limit their number.

Now, in the middle of the pandemic, the GOP is coming back with both charter and voucher legislation. The bills are advancing rapidly and teachers can’t mass their numbers in the Capitol due to restrictions on access.

CHARLESTON — Bills on schedule to pass the state House of Delegates this week would allow faster charter school expansion, promote online charter schools and give parents public money for non-public schooling.

It’s just the second week of the legislative session.

Fresh off their first statewide strike a year earlier, public school workers in 2019 shut down classrooms again to oppose an omnibus education bill that, among many other things, would’ve legalized charter schools and vouchers to provide public money for private- and home-schooling.

The effort staved off vouchers and limited charter schools to no more than three until July 1, 2023. County boards of education also were generally given veto power over charters.

This time, facing a Republican governor paired with Republican supermajorities in both legislative chambers, state public school worker unions are taking a more cautious approach.

“Maybe fight is not the best word, but to support our stand,” said Fred Albert, president of the state branch of the American Federation of Teachers, “and we’ve said this a million times: Elections have consequences. And we’ve always been about trying to elect friends of public education and people who support public education … [W]e know it’s going to be an uphill battle…”

Time to stop the bills appeared to be running out three days into the session. Perhaps it ran out in November.

By just Day Two of the session, House Republicans had already advanced charter school and voucher bills from the House Education Committee, which has been the graveyard of previous union-opposed legislation. The House Finance Committee passed the vouchers bill Saturday.

If the full House passes the bills, they head to the Senate, where there has historically been even more support for such legislation. A simple majority can override a gubernatorial veto...

Other factors could be affecting workers’ ability to combat the legislation. Many have borne personal tolls from the pandemic.

“People are dying,” White said. He said he confirmed Thursday five of his union members had died.

“I think people are feeling overwhelmed with the pandemic,” Albert said. “There’s a lot of fear out there for their own health and safety and for their children and classrooms.”

Teachers and others also have waged wearying battles over mandated returns to classrooms.

“I think people are exhausted from the fights over school reopening,” said Jay O’Neal, a teacher at West Side Middle who helped galvanize the 2018 and 2019 strikes.

A perfect time to sabotage public schools and their teachers, when everyone is 3xhausted.


The first snow storm of the season raged up the Eastern seaboard! Students thought they might have a snow day, but in some districts, the leadership said “No!”

This will upset those “reformers” who think it is time to get tough on the kids, time to get ready for the next test, time to squelch any sign of happiness, but:

In West Virginia, a school superintendent said a loud “Yes!”

In a letter to the school community on Tuesday, Jefferson County Schools Superintendent Bondy Shay Gibson said she was canceling classes so that students and faculty could take a much-needed break during a very hard year.

“For generations, families have greeted the first snow day of the year with joy,” Gibson’s letter states. “It is a time of renewed wonder at all the beautiful things that each season holds. A reminder of how fleeting a childhood can be. An opportunity to make some memories with your family that you hold on to for life.”

“For all of these reasons and many more, Jefferson County Schools will be completely closed for tomorrow, Dec. 16, in honor of the 1st snow day of the year,” the letter continues. “Closed for students … closed for virtual … closed for staff.”

Gibson said she hoped the snow day would provide the kind of joy, rest, and celebration that has been so rare during the pandemic.

“It has been a year of seemingly endless loss and the stress of trying to make up for that loss,” she said. “For just a moment, we can all let go of the worry of making up for the many things we missed by making sure this is one thing our kids won’t lose this year.”

“So please, enjoy a day of sledding and hot chocolate and cozy fires,” she said. “Take pictures of your kids in snow hats they will outgrow by next year and read books that you have wanted to lose yourself in, but haven’t had the time.”

“We will return to the serious and urgent business of growing up on Thursday, but for tomorrow,” the letter concludes, “go build a snowman.”

I wanted to go to Charleston, West Virginia, to thank the leaders of the Red4Ed Teachers Strike of 2018. Jay O’Neal of the NEA local and Fred Albert of the AFT local made it happen. I spoke on February 22, the second anniversary of the strike.

The teachers themselves were amazed by what they had done. They were outraged back then when the cost of their health insurance reduced their already meager take home pay. They met, count by county, they organized, they eventually realized they would be ignored unless they went out on strike.

Their strike wasn’t just one county or district, but the entire state. West Virginia is a right to work state. They could be fired for striking. But every superintendent closed every school and every school employee, including support staff and bus drivers, struck too.

At one point the union leaders announced a deal that included a 5% raise for teachers but not other staff, and the teachers sent them back to demand the same raise for everyone.

They won the raise but governor promised only a “commission” to study the onerous burden of health care costs. They are still waiting. The Governor, Jim Justice, is the only billionaire in the state, and he doesn’t know what it means to live paycheck to paycheck. He was elected as a Democrat, but six months after he won in 2016, he switched parties and embraced Trump.

After the raises they won, teachers’ starting pay is $37,000, and the top pay for a teacher with many years of experience and a doctorate is about $65,000 (those greedy teachers!!).

West Virginia is a poor state that has suffered through a dire opioid crisis. It has a storied history of miners’ strikes. The people I met love their state, loves it’s mountains and folkways, and are fighting for its children and its future.

The state voted for Trump, and no, he has not revived the coal industry. He has already forgotten the people of West Virginia.

Here is an account of my talk to the leaders of Red4Ed, which launched a national movement.

I met a vigorous young man who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, named Steve Smith. He explained something I never understood. Why do poor people vote for people who lie to them? He said the people of West Virginia were lied to by Democrats for decades. So they decided it was time to try the other party, which also lied to them. The winning ticket, he believes, is the one that appeals to independents and recognizes that most people don’t trust any politician to tell the truth.

A teacher added that a large part of the voting public will go for anyone who promises to stop abortion and gays. Another teacher said a large part of the voters were devoted to their guns. During the eight years that a Obama was President, many gun owners stocked up on AR-15 assault weapons because they wanted to be ready when the military came for their guns.

Seems the legislature cares more about abortion, guns, and gays than their own children or their future.

Billionaire Governor Jim Justice was elected governor of West Virginia as a Democrat but after election, he switched parties with Trump by his side.

Raw Story reports that Governor Justice, up for re-election, has stiffed hundreds of former workers in his coal mines.

Raymond Dye had a buildup of blood behind his left eye that prevented him from seeing. David Polk had an abnormal heartbeat, and his wife had high cholesterol. Roger Wriston’s wife had a bad back.

All the men had worked for a collection of coal companies owned by Gov. Jim Justice and his family, which had pledged to provide health insurance after the miners retired. Last year, though, the retirees learned that those firms had stopped paying their premiums. And as a result, their coverage had been terminated. Polk skipped doctor appointments.

“I know that waiting on medical treatment can do irreparable harm to my health,” he later said in a legal filing, “but I cannot afford to pay the bills.”

The expenses for the aging retirees, compounded by decades of work in southern West Virginia’s coal mines, were often costly. At one point, Wriston and his wife ended up with a bill for $12,367.76, another court filing said.

“I don’t think it’s fair what they’re doing to someone who worked their whole life,” Wriston’s wife, Tammy, said in an interview.

About 150 retired miners around West Virginia were making a similar discovery. So the United Mine Workers of America, the same miners’ union that had endorsed Justice’s election as governor in 2016, went to court last year and asked a federal judge to force the Justice companies to pay.

Lawyers for Justice’s companies initially opposed the union’s request for such an order, arguing the miners had not followed proper procedures for appealing a denial of health-benefit claims. Then, the companies settled, promising to clear up the matter and ensure benefits were provided.

Jan Resseger gives thanks for the teachers and other educators who boldly walked out and went out on strike over the past two years. So do I.

These courageous educators challenged the national narrative that had been so deviously cultivated by billionaires and Wall Street about “failing schools” and “bad teachers,” in an effort to destroy public faith in public schools and promote privatization of public funds.

Thanks to #Red4Ed, the new and realistic narrative is about crowded classrooms, crumbling schools, underpaid teachers, and schools without nurses, social workers, or librarians.

#Red4Ed said, “No more!”

The first walkout was in West Virginia in the spring of 2018. That walkout closed every school in the state and unleashed a wave of strikes and walkouts that continues now.

Reading about the West Virginia walkout inspired me to start writing a book that will be published January 21, called SLAYING GOLIATH. I will be in West Virginia on February 22 to meet those brave teachers and thank them for what they have done for all of us.

 

When teachers in West Virginia launched the Education Spring of 2018, one of their demands was “no charter schools.” The state’s public schools are already underfunded, and public school teachers had low pay compared to nearby states. The teachers understood that the addition of charter schools would mean fewer resources for public schools. Given that West Virginia is a largely rural state, there was no need or demand for a parallel school system of private contractors.

The legislature and governor agreed to the teschers’ demands but proceeded to double cross them by passing a charter law.

Charter advocates were thrilled. Another conquest for privatization.

But now charter advocates are “perturbed.” In fact, they are truly dismayed and having a hissy fit. They are downright ticked off.

It seems West Virginia law allows only school districts to authorize charters.

That is very very bad in charter land because districts are unlikely to welcome entrepreneurs, amateurs, and corporate raiders to tap their resources and cherrypick the students they want.

The National Alliance for Public [sic] Charter Schools won’t provide any assistance because they are so displeased. Its crack TFA alum, Emily Schultz, expressed her displeasure with West Virginia law; she previously was in charge of charters for the state of Alabama (which has a grand total of two charter schools).

Imagine that! A local school district having the right to decide who can open on their turf and poach their students!