Charter school battle extends West Virginia teacher strike
By Jonathan Allen (Reuters) - West Virginia teachers were on strike for a second day on Wednesday, cancelling classes for about 270,000 students in a bid to defeat a bill that would allow the state's first seven charter schools to open.
By Jonathan Allen
(Reuters) - West Virginia teachers were on strike for a second day on Wednesday, cancelling classes for about 270,000 students in a bid to defeat a bill that would allow the state's first seven charter schools to open.
The state's educators, among the lowest-paid in the nation, sparked a wave of U.S. teachers' strikes last year when they walked off the job to demand higher pay. Their nine-day strike ended after West Virginia agreed to a 5 percent raise.
Although the charter school bill was defeated on Tuesday in the state House of Delegates, the strike continued, closing most of the state's 700 schools in an effort to stop lawmakers from reviving the bill, union officials said.
Union officials have complained that wealthy organizations from outside the state are pushing for charter schools, which are funded by taxpayers but operate independently of public school systems. These groups advocated for or stood to profit from some of the bill's measures, said Erin McHenry-Sorber, an education professor at West Virginia University.
"We have a number of outside conservative privatisation interests that seem to be at the heart of pushing through this privatisation language," she said in an interview. Those groups include Americans for Prosperity, the advocacy group of the billionaires Charles and David Koch.
The legislation, which had passed the state Senate and includes the pay increase negotiated last year, was defeated in the state House of Delegates on Tuesday by a vote of 53-45. Both chambers are controlled by Republicans. Governor Jim Justice, a Republican, had vowed to veto the bill.
The possibility of reviving the Senate-approved bill would expire by the end of Wednesday's House session. The House was set to vote Wednesday on a separate bill, backed by the governor, that authorizes the promised pay raise and does not address charter schools.
The senators behind the bill that sparked the strike said the measure would create greater parental choice and improve the state's below-par public education system.
"Thousands of families across the state had their fundamental right to educational freedom usurped by the will of those who cling so desperately to the status quo," Mitch Carmichael, the president of the state Senate, said in a statement after the bill was defeated.
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 seeking raises and more nurses and guidance counsellors.
West Virginia is one of only six U.S. states that does not allow for charter schools, according to non-profit research group the Education Commission of the States.
Nearly 90 percent of the country's charter schools are in urban areas, and most holdout states are mostly rural, said West Virginia University's McHenry-Sorber. Senators advocating for charter schools never made clear that the model would work in rural areas, nor how they could address a teacher shortage, McHenry-Sorber said.
The American Federation of Teachers called the bill passed by the Senate an act of retaliation for the strike last March that secured higher pay for teachers. That strike was followed by similar actions in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Chicago and Los Angeles.
(Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Scott Malone, Paul Simao and David Gregorio)
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