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West Virginia tables charter schools bill amid teacher strike

Meanwhile, teachers are moving closer to a potential walkout in Northern California.

By
Clyde Hughes, Daniel Uria and Darryl Coote

Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The West Virginia House of Delegates voted to table a bill that would open the door to publicly funded charter schools as teachers went on strike.

A motion to indefinitely postpone a vote on the bill passed the House by a vote of 53-45.

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West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said in a news conference Tuesday that he received assurance from the House that there would not be an attempt to reconsider the motion that shelved the bill. Justice called on teachers to "go back to work right now" and "let the process play out."

"That education bill is dead, and I'm glad of that," he said.

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However, two of the state's three major school unions said the strike will continue Wednesday to ensure Republicans don't try to revive it in the morning.

The house has a 24-hour window where it can reconsider, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said in a Facebook video.

"This afternoon we consulted with our local leaders and with good faith lacking, the deceptive path used to move the bill and rumors swirling of the motion to reconsider, we will continue our work action on Wednesday," he said.

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Before the House vote, the state's public school teachers organized to strike for the second time within a year, this time to protest the bill.

All but one of the state's 55 county public school districts canceled classes Tuesday in anticipation of the strike that was called by West Virginia's three major school employee unions Monday night, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

While Senate Bill 451 would increase teacher pay and funding for public education, it also would allow charter schools to be created in West Virginia for the first time. The bill proposed allowing public money to be used for private, online and home schools through newly created "educational savings accounts."

"We have worked patiently," Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said in a statement, The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register reported. "We are taking action. We are left with no other choice ... we are calling a statewide strike. We are left no other choice - our voice has been shut out."

West Virginia teachers won a 5 percent pay raise after a two-week strike a year ago, the largest increase for educators in state history.

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The state Senate and House originally passed competing versions of the bill before the Senate updated its version and returned it to the lower chamber Monday, sparking the teacher's strike. That version cemented the statewide charter school program with a seven-school maximum and a limited education savings account program with 1,000 first-come first-serve accounts for parents of special needs students and victims of bullying.

Justice called on lawmakers to pass a bill that provided the pay raise he had promised in October, which he said would "fly through the House," adding he hadn't received an indication from Senators that they would consider a bill including the pay raise by itself.

"Today, right now, I'm calling the legislators to pass my pay raise bill, the bill I sent up, the clean bill," he said. "I'm calling upon them to do that now. Do that right now. I think there's a real opportunity to move forward here."

West Virginia's strike last year sparked national activism among educators that saw other walkouts in Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona and Washington state. This year, Los Angeles and Denver teachers mounted strikes while another has been authorized in Oakland.

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Union leaders for Oakland's public school teachers rejected calls from administrators Monday to continue contract negotiations, and said school officials are not taking concerns about pay and student resources seriously.

Oakland teachers are campaigning for smaller class sizes, more counselors and nurses and a 12 percent retroactive raise from 2017 to 2020. The district countered with a 5 percent raise over the same period.

The union has already authorized a strike, and Monday's impasse makes it more likely the teachers from 87 schools will walk out of classrooms this week.

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