UPDATE: W.Va. teachers react to strike ending

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- UPDATE 2/21/19 @ 12:45 a.m.
After two days of being on strike, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee and other union leaders announcing that the work stoppage is over.

The house adjourned for the day and did not resurrect the education bill that is now officially dead.

Teachers unions expressing thanks to the delegates who put a stop to it.

"We trust the bipartisan effort that it took to put West Virginians first, not out of state corporations,” Lee said.

Many teachers said they trust that their union leaders know what's best for them, but a sense of distrust in the senate is still lingering.

“This bill being killed is wonderful, it's great news but we know it's not over yet,” said Lucinda Burns, who has been teaching in Kanawha County for 15 years.

This sentiment was echoed by union leaders.

“We will be watching very closely, our members will be watching very closely,” said Lee.

But not everyone is happy with the decision to stop the strike. Senate republican leaders believe they have a responsibility beyond the teachers.

"I am not comfortable going back. I feel that there will be more retaliation and I think we will lose support going back and forth and I’m disappointed,” said Sarah Thompson, a teacher in Mason County.

But union leaders made it clear that they will come back if amendments that resemble the omnibus education bill are made.

"This is about the members that made the most difficult decision that you can make and that's to step out of the classroom, but they did it for their kids,” said Lee.

For now, a sense of relief as teachers and students head back to school tomorrow.

"I can’t wait to be back in the classroom with my children,” said Burns.

UPDATE 2/20/19 @ 7:30 p.m.
A two-day teacher strike in West Virginia is officially over, union education leaders announced Wednesday night.

They say schools in all the state's 55 counties will be back in session Thursday in what West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee called a "historic announcement."

"We will be watching (lawmakers) very closely," Lee announced. "With that we are announcing now that school will be open tomorrow."

Lee and leaders of two other educators' and work service personnel unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, say they're confident the legislative process will continue with their best interests at heart.

"We have faith in the bipartisan process," Lee said.

AFT President Fred Albert had a similar reaction, but he emphasized that education union leaders will keep a close eye on lawmakers -- referring specifically to Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Kanawha.

"We know there’s a trust issue," Albert said. "Senator Carmichael has shown us time and time again that we can’t really trust his word. We have taken into consideration the voices of our members who wanted (Senate Bill 451) to be killed, to be dead. We will not be resurrecting that bill this year. We appreciate them showing the world again (educators) stood strong and united."

Education union leaders also spoke about Putnam County -- the only of the state's 55 counties to have school Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Our people, just like last year, stood united," Lee said. "Unfortunately one county decided they wouldn’t close schools."

We have a crew at the Capitol. Keep checking the WSAZ App and WSAZ.com for the latest information.

UPDATE 2/20/19 @ 12:40 a.m.
After a statewide strike was declared Monday night and nearly all schools across West Virginia were closed Tuesday, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee announced that the strike will continue Wednesday.

Although the bill teachers opposed was killed Tuesday, union officials say they have little faith in the Senate.

"And we will call Mitch out if he's really serious about helping public education,” Lee said.

The House did not mention the omnibus education bill in session Tuesday, but there is worry that the bill could be revisited.

"They felt more comfortable having one more day to ensure that this bill is actually dead,” he Lee said.

Teachers who gathered at the Capitol on Tuesday are hoping that a reversal of the bill won’t happen.

"We had to come out and make our voices known so that they didn't flip their vote and push this bill through,” said Kanawha County teacher Brandy Arbogast.

Union leaders have urged teachers to be back at the Capitol on Wednesday.

"Our members are prepared to do what we need to do for public education for the kids of West Virginia,” Lee said.

As the work stoppage continues, they plan to provide for children through meals and daycare.

"We will make sure that kids are taken care of,” Lee said.

Teachers and union officials now hoping that the bill stays dead.

"So we can go back to the classroom on Thursday,” Arbogast said.

UPDATE 2/19/19 @ 7 p.m.
Teachers' unions in West Virginia say they have authorized educators to strike again Wednesday, saying they have no trust lawmakers will act in their best interest in the education reform matter.

It marks the second consecutive day union leaders have called a statewide work stoppage in response to the controversial omnibus education bill. By all indications, it appears the bill was dead Tuesday evening.

But West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee says they have no faith in lawmakers, especially in the Senate.

"It's also very clear we can not trust leadership in the Senate," Lee said during the news conference. "We will call Mitch out if he's really serious about public education," he added, referring to Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael, R-Kanawha.

Still, Lee and other union leaders say they have faith lawmakers could move on to other options, including a pay raise bill proposed by Gov. Jim Justice.

"It's a clean bill, and we expect it to move tomorrow," Lee said.

Keep checking the WSAZ App and WSAZ.com for the latest information.

UPDATE 2/19/19 @ 3:06 p.m.
The press conference planned for 5 p.m. has been pushed back to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

UPDATE 2/19/19 @ 2:26 p.m.
West Virginia teachers' unions are planning to hold a press conference Tuesday evening to discuss further action.

Cheers echoed through the West Virginia House of Delegates Tuesday after lawmakers voted to table action on a controversial education bill.

Shortly after, union leaders announced they will speak with educators across the state. Then, they will have another press conference at 5 p.m. to announce what they will do in response to the vote. WSAZ will carry the press conference live on the air and on WSAZ.com.

"Our members will tell us what action we take from here," said West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee. "To the educators across the state of West Virginia, we want to say how proud we are of you for putting your students first."

Leaders of the WVEA, the American Federation of Teachers of West Virginia, and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association celebrated with applause.

"You witnessed an historical occasion," said Joe White, Executive Director of the WVSSPA. "You witnessed the majority of the House of Delegates refuse to be sold out to out-of-state interests."

"This battle is not over," said Lee.

Lee said the battle began on the first day of the legislative session and will continue until day 60.

This announcement comes after the House voted 53-45 to indefinitely postpone taking any action on Senate Bill 451. The House then recessed until 6 p.m. Tuesday.

On Monday night, the Senate passed the latest version of the education reform bill by a 18-16 vote. It followed a day of heated discussions on the Senate floor, with some senators saying they were being rushed to vote on legislation that had been heavily amended by the House.

"All of a sudden, even after all of the work that the House did this last week, all of a sudden in the dead of night, the Senate tried to do that again last night," said AFT President Randi Weingarten. "It took all of the members, all of the teachers, the bus drivers, to come into Charleston today to actually expose in the light what was almost done in darkness."

Weingarten compared the situation to the West Virginia education strike in 2018.

"Last year, all we were looking for is to be treated fairly and that our kids to get a shot, a decent shot, and ultimately it took a nine-day strike to do that," said Weingarten. "This year, instead of actually making good and building on that good will that everybody had, the state Senate had a different idea. They wanted to ram through a bill that would defund public education and retaliate against the people who stood up for our kids."

At last year's strike, the motto was "55 United." This year, 54 counties participated in the statewide strike Tuesday. Putnam County remained open.

The AFT president says the strike allowed educators across the state to show up in large numbers at the Capitol in Charleston and demand lawmakers reconsider this bill.

"Unlike what happened on the Senate side, we are grateful to the House and their consideration of this," said AFT-WV President Fred Albert. "It is very clear today that the House heard our voice. They took our voice, the voice of West Virginians, over the voice of outsiders who came here and tried to ram educational savings accounts, and charter schools and all of the things that we did not want down our throats."

UPDATE 2/18/19 @ 8:30 p.m.
West Virginia teachers' unions have called a statewide strike over an education bill that they view as retaliation for a nine-day walkout last year.

Fred Albert, president of American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia, said educators felt they had no other option.

"We want the process to work. We want the house to take their time, but we're not leaving anything to chance," Albert said.

On Monday night, the Senate passed the education reform bill by a 18-16 vote. It followed a day of heated discussions on the Senate floor, with some senators saying they were being rushed to vote on legislation that had been heavily amended by the House.

The bill still contains the pay raise and a tax credit for school supplies, but it drops an incentive amount for teachers with good attendance to just $500.

It allows seven charter schools, at two schools per year now.
The Senate also added Educational Savings Accounts (ESAs) back in the bill. The House's version of the bill would have required a law enforcement officer at each school, while the new version just creates a fund for school safety and security.

Now that the Senate has voted to amend the bill and pass it on to the House, the House can either accept or reject the changes.

If the changes are rejected, the House and Senate will create a committee to focus on some sort of compromise.

Meanwhile, earlier Monday evening, leaders of three unions for teachers and school service workers said that a strike would start Tuesday.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee says that watching the actions of the state Senate, "it appears that they are more interested in listening to the outside interests than they are the educators across West Virginia."

Teachers won a 5 percent pay raise after last year's strike, which is included in the controversial bill. However, teachers said the strike is no longer about pay raises or PEIA funding. "We are in a state that is hurting with poverty, with opioid crisis. These kids are hurting and they need more than what somebody with a standardized test can give them," Cabell County teacher Adam Culver said.

The Senate version of the complex bill would allow for up to seven charter schools statewide and provide for up to 1,000 education savings accounts for parents to pay for private school.

The House passed its version of the bill last week. Educators said the House's version was better, but not perfect.

There is no word on how long the strike will last. State Superintendent Dr. Steven Paine issued a statement Monday. He said he regrets it had to come to a work stoppage.

"While SB 451 has followed an unusual path, the legislative process is not complete, and I am hopeful that we can collectively work toward a solution that best benefits our students and respects our teachers, service personnel, parents and citizens of West Virginia," Paine said in a news release.

UPDATE 2/9/19 @ 4:15 p.m.
Three teacher unions say they are ready and able to enact a work-action if needed as Senate Bill 451, better known at the Omnibus Education Bill, moves through the legislative process.

Leaders with West Virginia Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, and West Virginia School Service Personnel Association counted authorization votes from counties across the state in Flatwoods on Saturday and say individual teachers overwhelmingly support the decision if necessary.

On Friday AFT-WV President Fred Albert told Metro News they are happy with the direction the House Education Committee is traveling with the bill but expect more changes and aren't afraid to use the power of numbers to rally.

"We are watching every day, every hour of the bill," Albert said.

Union leaders said everything is on the table, but a strike is the last resort. "I don't want to leave my classroom, I love my kids," Teacher and Berkeley County Education Association Co-President Jana Woofter said. "I want to see my kids every day. I want to teach."

A similar meeting took place around this time last year and a nine-day work stoppage followed. "We will make sure if we have to go to the point of a work stoppage that we are providing food for the kids, we're providing daycare for the kids." West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said.

Union leader say no plans are made, but they will keep a close eye on legislators.

On Friday the following amendments were made:

• Striking education savings accounts (ESAs) out of the bill.
• Now requiring the majority of the school and community to support a public school transforming to a charter school.
• Striking a reference to Cabell and Kanawha counties for the pilot charter schools.
• Charter schools, when created, have to accept all students in their zone.
• Reinstatement of funds to innovation zones.
• Changing seniority language relating to RIF and transfers.
• Restricting elected officials from profiting or receiving money from charter schools, excluding an elected official who works at the school prior to conversion.
• Removal of all work stoppage language from the bill.

House committee members rejected these amendments:
• Changing the tax credit from $250 to $500
• Raising the incentive for teachers with good attendance from $500 to $2,000.

The bill now travels to the House Finance Committee for approval beginning Monday.

Education leaders in West Virginia had a press conference Friday to discuss potential action related to a controversial bill proposed in the Senate.

A coalition of unions -- West Virginia Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association -- joined forces to announce their plans in Charleston.

All educators and service personnel in the state will have the option to participate in a vote. The vote will be on whether or not to authorize the union leaders to call a statewide work stoppage, should circumstances surrounding the omnibus bill "merit action."

Employees in all 55 counties can vote. The vote will take place sometime next week. The exact day and time varies by county.

Senate Bill 451 is broad-ranging legislation. The omnibus bill touches on a variety of education issues, starting with pay raises for teachers. The bill would also let teachers bank personal days for retirement credit. It would give counties greater latitude in paying some teachers more for in-demand expertise.

Much of the back-and-forth in the Legislature boils down to a vision of whether pumping public dollars into semi-private schools will improve education in West Virginia or drain school resources that are stretched thin already.

In a rare move earlier this week, the Senate majority voted to bypass the Senate Finance Committee and instead let the whole membership consider the education bill. It's referred to as the Committee of the Whole. Acting as a committee, the Senate advanced the bill on its first reading Thursday, but the legislation must go through three full readings in the Senate before moving to the House.

Lawmakers are back in Senate chambers for a second reading Friday. It's unclear how long that process will take. As of 1 p.m. Friday, senators had

WVEA President Dale Lee said the groups hope the state House steps up and "does the right thing."

“We have educators here from across the state every day watching closely," said Lee.

Once the votes are collected, the coalition will announce its next move.

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