It’s clear now the Student Success Act, and its predecessor in the regular legislative session, were never about students at all.
Not exactly an earth-shattering revelation, but even we’re a little shocked at how far West Virginia’s upper chamber has gone to punish public school teachers and service personnel for striking two years in a row to defend their livelihoods and the kids they teach.
In special session, with not as much public pressure on them, the Senate was able to narrowly pass an amendment to its act making a teacher strike unlawful, disallowing superintendents to close school districts for a strike and making it possible to fire school workers for joining a picket line.
The bill does many other things, but this late addition is petty and vindictive, and probably what Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, wants more than anything, after being embarrassed by the teachers, school service personnel and their unions two years in a row.
Teacher strikes have been illegal in West Virginia for a while, although previous precedent relied on a court decision, not state law. The GOP is not very union-friendly in general, and the teacher unions in West Virginia wield more power than others that have been broken by right-wing policies at the federal and state levels over time.
Carmichael and other GOP leaders might see crushing these unions as their biggest holy crusade, but their actions could have ruinous implications for their platform. Teachers and school employees vote. They also pay a lot of attention to how politicians vote on issues that affect them.
The ability to fire school employees for going on strike, while something of a nuclear option, also is self-defeating. There’s a teacher shortage in West Virginia, as it is. If teachers and school service personnel from all 55 counties walk out in protest, will they all be fired? Who, pray tell, would replace them in a state that’s losing population and bleeding young talent left and right? Perhaps that option could be used to target specific individuals, but there’s a lawsuit in the cards, if that’s how it’s deployed.
The other punishments — for instance, not paying school personnel for days missed on a strike, perhaps serve as more of a deterrent. Then again, teachers and school service personnel walked out this year against the previous version of the legislation that just passed, fully aware that defeating the bill would cost them a pay raise. Anyone who thinks teachers, especially West Virginia teachers, are in it for the money has not been paying attention.
This entire thing could be moot. The legislation still has to pass the House of Delegates, which won’t be meeting in special session until June 17. The House killed the bill in the regular session, and the version they’ll be taking up is even more liberal with allowances for charter schools and more draconian on the rights of public school employees.
Even though the GOP also controls the House, it’s difficult to see them going for this without some heavy modifications. Then, it would have to pass the Senate again and meet the approval of Gov. Jim Justice, who previously had been clamoring for a simple pay raise for state employees — something the Republicans promised before last year’s elections, although failing to mention the strings they’d attach.
Maybe charter schools could help West Virginia students. Maybe education savings accounts aren’t the worst idea in the world. But Senate leadership keeps proving those things aren’t what they really care about. It comes down to what all politics eventually comes down to for elected officials in leadership on the right: lining the pockets of your benefactors and burying the perceived enemy.