W.Va. Senate Approves Bill to Make Teacher Strikes Illegal

Teachers sit in the gallery of the West Virginia Senate Saturday as lawmakers began a special session on education. Photo: Perry Bennett/ West Virginia Legislative Photography

The West Virginia Senate has passed a complex and controversial education reform bill that contains anti-strike provisions that say teachers can be fired for walking off the job and allows for the state’s first charter schools.

The upper chamber also passed a measure creating education savings accounts, another controversial issue touted by majority Republicans during a special session of the Legislature. 

The Republican-backed Student Success Act ties pay raises and more funding for school counseling services to the creation of charter schools in the state, changes how layoffs would be considered and includes other proposals that are opposed by teachers. It comes after two years of teacher strikes in West Virginia, which inspired strikes and work stoppages in a number of other states across the country. 

A change to the bill Sunday makes striking grounds for terminating a teacher or would allow for the withholding of their pay, prorated for the number of days missed. Additionally, the amendment would prevent counties from holding extracurricular activities on days when a strike takes place. 

Some Democratic members of the chamber argued that teachers have made up days missed by a strike and also questioned how punishing teachers for going on strike balances the state’s Constitutional provisions that guarantee a right to “a thorough and efficient system of education” with First Amendment rights to assemble and petition the government afforded by the United States Constitution.

West Virginia’s Republican Gov. Jim Justice recognized some of the issues educators have with the bill, but focused his criticism on a the bill’s provision that would put extracurricular activities on hold during a strike. Since taking office in 2017, Justice has continued to coach high school girls basketball.

“What message does that send when one can forego academics and training in your education classes and yet go participate in extracurricular activities? That is the wrong message to send,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael, also a Republican, said after meeting with the governor over the bill.

Senators will put the bill to a vote Monday, but the state’s House of Delegates won’t return to consider it until June 17.

The Student Success Act as it currently stands contains a number of provisions that members of the House were unwilling to approve during the state’s regular session earlier this year.

This article was originally published by West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Editor’s Note: This story was updated at 2 p.m. on Monday, June 3.

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