Following the successful defeat of the West Virginia omnibus education bill, SB 451, in February 2019, Senate Republicans called for a special session in June to reintroduce the same legislation. SB 451 tied a school employee pay raise to anti-public education proposals, such as for-profit charter schools, increased class size and elimination of seniority rights.
Education workers carried out a two-day walkout on Feb. 19-20, which ultimately killed the bill. The previous year, teachers and support staff waged a nine-day strike that paved the way for education worker actions in several other states.
The Senate reconvened on Saturday, June 1, thinking no one would show up since most school districts are closed for summer break. The Senate also chose that date to avoid another walkout. To the Senate’s surprise, hundreds of education workers did show up at the Capitol building in Charleston, wearing mostly red and holding signs. Members of education unions, as well as representatives of other labor unions, came together in a demonstration of unity.
Coincidentally, June 1 is also the date of the first Workers’ Solidarity Day.
No new bill was passed June 1. Senate President Mitch Carmichael called the education workers “obstructionists.”
On June 3 the Senate reconvened, again drawing huge protests. The legislators passed the misnamed “Student Success Act.”
The new bill includes charter schools, increased class sizes and the elimination of seniority. The Senate added an amendment making it illegal for a school superintendent to close schools during a worker walkout. A separate bill created voucher programs known as Education Savings Accounts (ESAs).
Who is promoting this bill?
The bills are being promoted by union-busting outfits such as the Chamber of Commerce and the West Virginia Manufacturers Association.
On Friday, May 31, Trump-appointed Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sent out a tweet supporting the Student Success Act, writing, “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 and ESAs and support great teachers. Let’s get it done.”
While every single survey taken since February shows most people in the state do not want to privatize public education, free-market capitalists appear to be in a hurry to do so.
Many rank-and-file educators are worried the Democrats are beginning to show their true loyalty to ruling-class interests and are starting to soften their position on charter schools. Only time will tell what will happen next.
Unions plan to return to Charleston June 17 when the bills will be taken up by the House of Delegates.