West Virginia Teachers Strike Over Retaliatory Privatization

Teachers in West Virginia went on strike today.

The reason?

Retaliatory privatization.

Last year, state legislative leaders were embarrassed when teachers stood up to threats of firing and won their pay increase.

Teachers 1. Legislature 0.

This year, to retaliate for that embarrassment, those same legislative leaders want to privatize state teacher jobs with charter schools and push public schools teachers to the brink.

“Charter school lobbyists have run roughshod over the Capitol for the last two weeks,” Spring Mills High School teacher Jessica Salfia told This Week in Morgan County’s Russell Mokhiber. “And this morning at the hearing, we were given 70 seconds a piece to testify.”

“We are seeing a push to dismantle already struggling public schools,” Salfia said.  “It’s frustrating. Teachers do the work they do because they are called to it. The pay is not good. The hours are long. It’s hard. It’s emotionally hard. It’s labor intensive. I am exhausted at the end of a school week, both mentally and emotionally, every week.”

“People don’t go into this work because they know they are going to make a ton of money, or that it’s going to be easy. It’s not going to be easy. Summers off are not summers off. They go into it because they believe in it. This is work that you do because you believe in it.”

“The outcry we are seeing from public teachers across the state is because this great work they believe in, the calling they have, is essentially being attacked.”

Salfia traveled earlier this month from the Eastern Panhandle to Charleston to testify before the House of Delegates.

“Proponents of some of these legislative measures will say are about ‘choice’ and creating ‘competition’ for our public schools,” Salfia told the House of Delegates. “But for educators like me for whom teaching is a calling, the implication that any struggle or inadequacies our schools or students might be experiencing – is simply because I’m not working hard enough – because I don’t have enough competition is frankly insulting.”

“I can also tell you privatization of public education is not the answer,” Salfia said.

“Charter schools are for profit institutions. And the idea that education can be run by business should terrify us all. Because we aren’t dealing with product, we’re dealing with children. All over this country charters schools have closed suddenly some mid-year because they were underperforming. This is the danger of having a CEO instead of a principal or a teacher – the bottom line is not the well-being of our students or communities, but profit margins and success rate.”

In 2015 the Akron-Beacon Journal cited that Ohio charter schools “misspend public money nearly four times often than any other type of tax payer funded agency.”

Los Angeles teachers just went on strike because charter schools had bled their system to the point that average class size was 45 students per class, and there is currently a moratorium on the creation of new charters in that district.

“We all see this for what it is,” Salfia said. “Not reform, but unconstitutional retaliation. Last year after the work stoppage, my school lost almost half its Math Department to Maryland schools – highly qualified teachers who taught AP courses. Teachers who I respect as colleagues and value as friends. These teachers left not just because of the difference in pay scales, but this legislature’s action conveyed blatant disregard and disrespect for public educators and public education in this state.”

“School privatization if it’s allowed to pass sends this message all over again. I have already had brilliant, qualified teachers tell me, ‘if they bring in charters, that’s it for me. I’m going to Maryland where I know they value what I do.’”

“This fight is not about budgets or reform,” Salfia said. “It’s about what we value as educators and as West Virginians.”

“Teachers and schools need support. We need specialized, content specific training and professional development. We need school counselors. We need school nurses. We need to address the mental health crisis in our communities and schools. We need parent volunteers and community collaborations. We need smaller class sizes and time. Time to plan, time to collaborate, and time to meet with students and parents.”

“What we don’t need is to turn our school system into a for profit system. What we don’t need is the funneling of public money in the creation of charter schools. What we don’t need are legislators who care more about PAC money and corporate donors than our school and students. So I ask today, that as you listen this morning and tonight to the concerns of teachers from all over this state about our fears and about the crisis in our schools, that you listen not as republicans or as democrats, but as West Virginians. Because education should not be about profits or politics.”

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