West Virginia Lawmakers Effectively Kill Legislation Just Hours After Teachers Strike
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Public school teachers in West Virginia went on strike today for the second time in about a year. The last time around, they started a movement that spread across many other states. This time around, they were protesting a controversial education reform bill. Just hours after the strike began, the West Virginia House of Delegates effectively killed the legislation. Dave Mistich of West Virginia Public Broadcasting has been following the action and joins us now.
DAVE MISTICH, BYLINE: Hey.
SHAPIRO: Teachers in West Virginia walked off the job for almost two weeks last year. What's the difference between that strike and this one?
MISTICH: Well, last year, you know, they walked off the job demanding better pay and benefits. I should point out those are the sort of marquee things that made headlines. They were also fighting off some various things, things that they called attacks on public education, the ways that people would be - qualifications that would be considered in reductions of forces, the taking out of union dues from their paycheck.
But this year, they fought off to kill a bill that tied these additional raises to components opposed by educators and other leaders of their unions. Many of those provisions were - from last year had found themselves in this one bill that was known as an omnibus. I spoke to Joy Kinser. She's a second-grade teacher from Mercer County. And here's what she had to say about the difference between last year and this year.
JOY KINSER: Last year, I feel like that we were fighting for ourselves. And this year, I feel like that we are fighting for our students, we are fighting for our schools and we're fighting for our state.
SHAPIRO: Dave, get a little more specific. Tell us about this bill and what was in it that teachers felt was worth striking over.
MISTICH: So again, it was the - you know, this provision that would have asked them to, like, pull out their union dues. That had been stripped from the bill - the latest version of the bill. The two big ones, though, were the establishment of charter schools here in the state as well as education savings accounts - these voucher-like programs. Teachers and the leaders of their unions had fought long and hard to keep those provisions out of the bill. In this latest version, it popped back up again. And that's sort of why they went on strike this morning.
SHAPIRO: Lawmakers reacted quickly to the strike. Explain what happened in the Statehouse today and how surprising it was.
MISTICH: Well, the whole idea is that over the weekend, Senate President Mitch Carmichael - he has sort of been leading the charge on this bill. He was working with House leadership to craft a version that would have passed. He told me today that he expected the House to pass the bill. It was his understanding that the votes were there.
MITCH CARMICHAEL: In this political world, all you really have is your word. And so when one gives you your word, you take them at their word. And we take actions accordingly. So we had an agreement, and then it wasn't honored.
MISTICH: The big news today is that there was a motion to postpone the bill indefinitely, which effectively kills the bill. That motion was adopted on a 53-45 vote, meaning that Republicans joined the minority Democrats to effectively put this bill on hold.
SHAPIRO: And what does that mean for teachers and students?
MISTICH: Well, despite the House delegates effectively killing this long, sweeping and controversial bill, teachers and school employees will be off the job for a second day Wednesday. Union leaders cited the slightest of chances that Senate Bill 451 could be revived. That would come through a motion to reconsider action on the measure - not likely to happen, but they're saying that this is a matter of trust. Leaders of these unions say the anxiousness over that possibility was articulated to them through their members. And, you know, of course this announcement came after a long, loud day here at the Capitol. And just as shortly after the call for the strike's second day, county school systems began to call off school.
SHAPIRO: That's Dave Mistich of West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Thanks so much.
MISTICH: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.