[Defeating Privatization Bill in a Single Day ]




 Barbara Madeloni 
 February 20, 2019
Labor Notes

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 _ Defeating Privatization Bill in a Single Day _ 

 West Virginia teachers and school employees struck for the second
time in a year, successfully defeating an education bill that would
have opened the state’s first charter schools, attacked teacher
seniority, and created education savings accounts (ESAs) , Anne Cain 


“Don’t start those buses tomorrow,” said Joe White, executive
director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association.

He was announcing the second statewide education strike in West
Virginia in a year, alongside the leaders of the state’s two teacher

The next morning, February 19, buses throughout the state sat idle in

And by the middle of the day, strikers declared victory with the
defeat of an anti-union, pro-privatization education bill in the state

West Virginia teachers emboldened educators across the country last
year when they struck to defend their health insurance and win raises
But when the legislature returned this January, hostile legislators
brought forward an omnibus education bill.

It would have opened the state’s first charter schools, attacked
teacher seniority, and created education savings accounts (ESAs) and
school vouchers to divert public funds to private schools.

Although the bill also included pay raises, funds for rising health
insurance costs, and more money for public education, educators
weren't fooled. They could see it was designed to suck funds from
public schools and open the door to privatizers.


After last year’s strike, members of both teacher unions formed the
WV United Caucus
to strengthen the connections they had built during the walkout.

Meanwhile union leaders were calling on voters to “remember in
November,” but they failed to oust the Republican majority in either
house of the legislature.

When word came down about the legislation, the caucus began a campaign
to educate teachers and the community about how charters and ESAs move
public money into private hands and undermine public education.

Since West Virginia doesn’t have charter schools, caucus members
asked educators elsewhere about the effects of charters and ESAs.
“Just like people learned from West Virginia, we learned from other
states,” said Terri Engnoth, an English teacher in Mercer County.

The caucus designed pamphlets, held meetings in schools, leafleted the
community, and held a webinar about the bill’s corporate backer, the
American Legislative Exchange Council.

Meanwhile the state Senate, led by Senate President Mitch Carmichael,
was pressing the 130-page legislation for a speedy approval.

Statewide elected union leaders encouraged members to contact
legislators. Members and community supporters flocked to a hearing,
where the voices against the bill far outnumbered those speaking for
it—4 to 1 by some estimates.

Legislators angered educators by allowing speakers against the bill
only 70 to 85 seconds to speak, while setting no time limits on
speakers for the bill.

State union leaders worked with House members to modify the bill, and
late last week were urging members to support a compromise. But the
rank and file had a different message: “Kill the bill.”


Just like last year, county-level unions started taking their own
strike votes, with Mingo County again the first to support a strike.
Statewide leaders then initiated their own votes, which won
overwhelming support.

As the bill went from the Senate to the House and back to the Senate,
union members talked to each other about how and when to mobilize.

On the night of Sunday, February 18, the caucus invited West Virginia
educators to join a phone call with teacher activists from other
states, who reported on their own experiences with privatization,
successful fights against charters, and the inspiration they drew from
last year’s strike in West Virginia.

As these members were strategizing about what to do if the bill
passed, things fell apart in the statehouse. The Senate was forcing
votes on amendments that legislators had no time to read and refusing
any compromises. Fed up and fearing a quick deal, at 6 p.m. on Monday,
the state’s union leaders announced a strike for the next day.

That evening, 54 of the state’s 55 county superintendents announced
school closures. Without buses, rural districts cannot keep schools
open, so the role of the School Service Personnel Association was

But in Putnam County—which also happens to be in the district of the
teachers’ top foe, Senate President Carmichael—the superintendent
refused to close the schools and messaged workers to show up the next

Facebook feeds started popping with calls to support striking teachers
and school employees there. Before dawn on Tuesday, educators from
surrounding counties joined Putnam picket lines. No buses left their


Educators didn’t know how the community would respond when they
walked a second time. But as it turned out, “that fear that we would
not have community support—it was wrong,” Engnoth said. “We have
pizza, chicken nuggets, and homemade cinnamon rolls. I think people
are really proud of us.”

By midday Tuesday, with schools closed and hundreds of educators
flooding the statehouse, the House of Delegates voted to table the
omnibus bill indefinitely—effectively killing it.

Cautious that legislators might use parliamentary procedures to
resurrect the bill the next day, union leaders announced the strike
would continue for a second day to assure the bill was dead. Putnam
County was once again the lone holdout, but union members again set up
early-morning picket lines there. Once again, no buses rolled out.

There will be more fights ahead. But now “we have a whole state that
understands the privatization agenda,” said Charleston English
teacher Jay O’Neal. “And by the way, strikes work.” His message
for union leaders and members: “Stop trying to lobby—we were doing
that and it didn’t get us anywhere.”

Engnoth agreed: “Every vote went against us until we walked, and
then we killed the bill.”

A version of this article appeared in Labor Notes #480
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Barbara Madeloni []
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