Friday, January 25, 2019

WV: Legislative Extortion

Last spring, West Virginia's teachers stood up and stood up loud, shutting down every single school in the state. They were out with five demands-- better wages, health insurance, defeating an expansion of charter schools, keeping seniority, and killing a "paycheck protection" bill. They won, the governor signed a pay raise, and teachers won the right to shout at the end, "Who made history? We made history!"

They should have forced the legislature to swear "No take backs."

Republicans in the West Virginia Senate have introduced a bill that aims to undo some of the results of the 2018 strike.

"This is a vision that’s been worked on with input from many,” said Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson. She forgot to say many what, as the bill, wit versions clocking in at well over 100 pages (one draft version is online here), was put together with zero input from the teachers union.

That makes sense, since the goal here is to shaft West Virginia's teachers yet again.

A picturesque WV cliff off which the WV GOP would like to throw public ed
Teachers struck for a 5% wage hike; the bill has a 5% average wage hike. Teachers struck for improved health insurance. The bill sort of does that. The bill also adds incentive pay for math teachers. It even adds a teacher expense credit (a whopping $250) for teachers. But it doesn't end there.

Since the strike, teachers in West Virginia have been playing whack-a-mole with various reformster proposals, and each one of them has been shot down. Now they are all back, wrapped into this humongous bill the includes teacher wage increases and health care. The GOP message is clear-- give us what we want, or you can't have your raise.

What do they want? It includes a "paycheck protection" clause, requiring unions to get permission annually to deduct dues from teacher paychecks. It docks teacher pay during walkouts.

It gives West Virginia, for the first time, charter school law the establishes both brick and virtual charters. The charter law takes up 32 pages of the whole bill, and covers all the bases from a state charter commission stocked with political appointees all the way to rules allowing charter takeover of public facilities in whole or in part. It institutes open enrollment.

And it creates the super-voucher education savings account system. The system would give parents 75% of the state adjusted per pupil expense. The proposed voucher may be used for private school tuition, online learning programs, tutoring, extra services like activity fees, textbooks or any other instructional materials, computer hardware or software, school uniforms, testing fees, summer school tuition, CTE tuition, services and therapies like PT, transportation to/from school, and anything else the state treasurer approves. The ESA does not require the student to be enrolled in a private school-- in other words, you can use your voucher to home school.

The parent fills out an application and promises to get the student an education in "at least" reading, language, math, science and social studies (which is certainly a "least" education). The ESA program will itself be privatized by hiring someone to manage it. A parent review committee of seven ESA parents picked by the treasurer will determine if any expenses are questionable; they'll meet when the treasurer calls them, and he'll call them when...? Are we supposed to believe he'll be monitoring all those ESAs? Because that is a lot of work, but if you don't do it, Florida history tells us that a lot of the money wanders off.

Granted, I'm looking at a draft, of which there were apparently several, but this is a bad implementation of a bad idea.

So that, in broad strokes, is the deal. If the legislature wants teachers to get the raises they were promised, they have to let the GOP blow up public education. Senate President Mitch Carmichael projects just the right weasely passive-aggressive tone:

I'm certain that there are some teachers and some union leaders that would rather just have an enormous pay raise — which is a component of this bill — and not reform the system in any manner. But I am confident that really great teachers want to have the opportunity to do their job in the best possible manner. 

The actual bill was, possibly, going to show its face today. The lesson here is not a pleasant one-- any history that is made can be unmade, and the West Virginia GOP is apparently committed to undoing as much of last spring's strike as they can.

The really unfortunate thing here is the the GOP missed the point-- the strike was not simply about money and healthcare, but about dignity and respect and building a better future for West Virginia's public schools and the students they serve. The GOP is calculating that they have made WV teachers so poor that they'll jump at the money and let all the rest go. They are calculating that the teachers can be bought. That's too bad, because while this bill can-- and should be defeated-- the disrespect for teachers that it shows cannot be taken back.

Here's hoping this bill goes down in flames and the legislature goes back to provide the teachers what they were  promised and what public education in West Virginia desperately needs.

1 comment:

  1. I know this is an older article. But it needs to be pointed out. Democrats and Republicans treat teachers like crap.
    Both sides of the coin are the problem.