Archives for category: West Virginia

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!

 

The West Virginia Republican members of the House rammed through an omnibus education bill that authorized charters for the first time in the state. Every Democrat opposed the bill, and seven Republicans broke ranks to oppose it. It passed 51-47.

The West Virginia House of Delegates passed Wednesday its education omnibus bill (House Bill 206), after replacing its cap of 10 charter schools statewide with a cap of three until July 1, 2023.

But the bill would allow three more charter schools every three years after that.

The number allowed as the years roll by would be unlimited. If the bill ultimately becomes law, these would be the state’s first charter schools.

The final passage vote, after 11 p.m. Wednesday, was 51-47, largely with Republicans for it and Democrats against.

The House then recessed its side of the special legislative session on education. The state Senate, which is also led by Republicans, will now have to decide what to do with the bill.

Both chambers must agree on the same version to send it to Republican Gov. Jim Justice for his signature or veto.

The deal was strongly opposed by teachers even though it included pay raises and new money for counselors and other support staff.

West Virginia’s teachers struck twice, with opposition to charters one of their demands.

Governor Jim Justice pledged to block charters. Let’s see if he betrays the teachers as the Legislature did. After the bill passed, he congratulated the House, so a veto is unlikely. 

West Virginia is a rural state. It does not need two parallel publicly funded school systems. It does not need charter schools. It needs investment in public schools, which are underfunded.

Betsy DeVos must be sipping champagne.

 

 

Jan Resseger writes an in-depth account of the ongoing battle by teachers in West Virginia to keep charters and vouchers out of their state. 

They struck twice and they continue to fight.

The Republican majority in the legislature is determined to introduce privatization, despite the poor results in other states.

The Republican leadership have added provisions to the pending legislation to prevent walkouts in the future.

We learned on Tuesday that a poison pill had been added to the Senate’s omnibus bill—to ban strikes by teachers: “Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump says an anti-strike provision was amended into an omnibus education bill….  The amendment also says no county superintendent may close school in anticipation of a strike.  And the amendment says that if a strike causes school to be closed then that school can’t participate in extracurricular activities… Democrats in the Senate argued that the provision was retaliatory for the strikes of the past two years.”

What happens next will be decided by the House and Governor Jim Justice.

Politico Morning Education reports:

BANNING TEACHER STRIKES?: West Virginia’s GOP-led Senate approved the ban on teacher strikes 17-14 as an amendment to broad education reform legislation that DeVos urged the lawmakers to pass. The amendment was approved with “heavy opposition” from Democrats, the Associated Press reported.

— GOP Sen. Charles Trump, who sponsored the amendment, said it’s meant to keep schools running and not as retaliation for two teacher walkouts since last year, according to the AP. But Fred Albert, the president of the state’s American Federation of Teachers chapter, told POLITICO Pro “it’s pure retribution, retaliation.”

—”Already, we don’t have collective bargaining. It’s a right-to-work state,” Albert said, acknowledging that work stoppages in the past have been “truly illegal.” “This is just I think another stab at trying to punish us, making the law perhaps a little more severe with such language,” but he said such measures aren’t likely to float in the House.

— The chamber will continue its work today on education legislation, which would allow for the creation of state charter school and education savings account programs that are opposed by teachers unions who have been protesting at the state Capitol. The GOP-led House will reconvene on June 17.

— In February, the unions waged a two-day strike over a contentious education bill that would have brought education savings accounts and charter schools to West Virginia. The state started the wave of teacher strikes in 2018, helping create a #RedforEd teacher strike movement that continues today.

— DeVos’s push for school choice runs directly counter to what the state’s teachers unions want. She tweeted on Friday, “West Virginia has an opportunity to improve education for all & put the needs of students first. Looking forward to seeing bold moves to offer robust options like charter schools & ESAs and support great teachers. Let’s get it done.”