SB 451 Will Harm Teachers, Kids

One year ago, tens of thousands of educators, parents, principals, students and other concerned citizens from all 55 counties marched on Charleston, demanding that teachers, students and schools be given what they need to do well–higher teacher salaries, more classroom resources and respect for the teaching profession. They weren’t asking for larger class sizes or charter schools. After nine days of massive protests, Senate Republican leaders gave in, realizing that their decades-long intransigence to properly fund public education needed to end. A callous read is that they agreed to pay raises and other improved education conditions to save their political careers.

But obviously, the Senate Republican leadership never gave up on its antipathy for supporting and funding public education. In what can only be deemed duplicitous and dishonest, Senate leaders now want to punish teachers — and their students — for winning the strike. An omnibus education bill that is being fast-tracked to the Senate floor ties teacher pay raises to poison pills–the very things that Republicans have always wanted but that educators and the public oppose and know will actually harm kids’ education: transferring public school dollars to establish charter schools, education savings accounts, increasing class sizes in elementary school, and making the entire piece of legislation null and void if even one provision is held invalid by a court. That could mean teachers won’t get their much-deserved raise.

Gov. Jim Justice says he would veto the bill as written and advised the Legislature to just deal with a clean teacher pay raise bill for now. We thank him for putting policy over party.

The added provisions actually will do the opposite of what state Sen. Mitch Carmichael contends is the intent of the measure — to provide a world-class education to West Virginia students. Let’s look at charter schools, which haven’t proven to be the magic bullet that privatizers and profiteers want you to believe. Take Washington, D.C., for example: Between 2012 and 2017, according to the DC Public Charter School Board, 26 charter local education agencies or campuses/programs closed because of academic deficiencies, financial deficiencies or fiscal mismanagement. Just last week, four other charters announced they will be closing. Numerous studies have reached the same conclusion: Charter schools generally do no better, or often worse, than traditional public schools. And vouchers–which are like education savings accounts in that parents use tax dollars for private school tuition — have an even worse track record. And as we all know, smaller class sizes allow for more teacher-student interaction and create a more conducive environment for teaching and learning.

That aside, the sneaky legislative process the Senate leaders are using is particularly malevolent. They didn’t consult with or have any public hearings with teachers, school service employees, county school superintendents, principals or other interested parties. And now they are sidestepping the usual committee process to get to a quick Senate vote.

Why? Because the only people who want these add-ons to teacher raises are out-of-state, deep-pocketed privatizers who want taxpayer dollars to open charter or other private schools that usually have little or no accountability or transparency. The public doesn’t want scarce public school dollars to be drained from our public schools for failed schemes.

Let’s remember what drove educators and their supporters to the state capitol a year ago. They wanted public schools to be improved with programs that have a strong track record, and they wanted teachers to be paid a livable wage and given decent healthcare benefits. The protesters were not demanding that public dollars be diverted to privatized schooling or that class sizes be made larger. This nonsense must stop, and the Senate must start acting like a mature governing body that should have learned its lesson a year ago.

Fred Albert is president of the American Federation of Teachers West Virginia chapter

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