Teachers rally against education omnibus at capitol | Journal-news


CHARLESTON — Nearly 200 teachers and students rallied Thursday evening against the West Virginia Senate’s education reform package they say will take more money out of county school systems.

Rallying under the banner of “Our Students First for Public Education,” the crowd heard from teachers, school administrators, students and lawmakers in front of the Senate Chamber.

Maddox Earl, a fifth-grade student at Ruffner Elementary School in Kanawha County, told the crowd that she recently penned an essay on education. She said that legislators need to focus on helping make existing schools better.

“Some kids don’t get the education they deserve. It’s not because we don’t have good teachers. I have the same great teachers I’ve always had,” Earl said. “My friends and I don’t need a new school. We need more people to care about the schools we already have.”

Earlier Thursday, the Senate met as the Committee of the Whole to pass Senate Bill 451, the education omnibus bill. The massive education reform package passed 18-16, with two Republicans voting with the senate Democratic minority. The bill is on its second reading today.

The 134-page bill included the 5 percent pay raise for teachers and school service personnel on top of the 5 percent they received last year after a nine-day strike that started Feb. 22, 2018. It also includes $250 in tax credits for teachers, a $2,000 bonus for teachers who take math courses, and gives teachers $500 for every 10 days of sick leave banked when they retire.

But the bill also includes provisions that teachers’ union don’t support, including public charter schools, education savings accounts, differential pay between teachers in certain subjects. Some provisions, such as docking teacher pay and prohibiting extracurricular activities during work stoppages, they see as punishment for the 2018 strike.

Jenny Craig, a special education teacher at Wheeling Middle School, took time Thursday to drive down from Ohio County with a group of teachers — including her mother — to watch the vote in the Senate and to take part in the evening rally.

“We drove down here … to talk to our legislators to tell them why we know, not feel, this bill is so bad for our children and for public schools,” Craig said. “(The rally) highlights the real problems and the real needs of our schools and the real failings, which are the policies (the Legislature) enacted over the past decade.”

Craig said ways to make public schools better is to keep class sizes small, give more freedom and flexibility to teachers in the classroom, cut down on the number of standardized testing, and increase access to mental health care for students.

“None of those items were address in this bill,” Craig said. “We certainly hope it dies in the House. I have real string thoughts and hesitations on provisions of this bill, especially charters and the education savings accounts.”

Craig is concerned that charter schools will discriminate against special needs students and not be able to offer the full range of programs required at public schools.

“As we have seen throughout the country, there are systemic problems with privatization of public money to either public or private charter schools,” Craig said. “These charters are not going to be held to the same standard that our public schools are in regard to providing free and appropriate public education for all. They may accept special needs students, but there is no way they can provide for the scope and diversity of programs we provide in public schools.”

Teachers and students were joined by a number of Democratic lawmakers from the Senate and House of Delegates. Del. Sammie Brown, D-Jefferson, told the crowd that Republican legislators needed a reminder about last year’s strike and where teachers stand.

“When they tried to say that educators failed their system, it wasn’t you that failed. It was your government,” Brown said. “They said we wouldn’t fight back, but ladies and gentlemen it seems they tried us, and we’re here to stay.”

Cathi Bradley, a principal at Kanawha City Elementary School in Kanawha County, encouraged lawmakers to visit her school, which sits across the Kanawha River from the State Capitol Building 2 miles away.

“I see educators coming in early and staying up late,” Bradley said. “Our employees, from the cooks to the counselors, work together as a team everyday with every child.

“We are family. We are a team, and we invite you — anyone who has not spent their day in a life of an educator — let us open your eyes to the successes going on in West Virginia,” Bradley said.





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