Teachers ‘walk-in,’ eye lawmakers as regular session begins

SOUTH CHARLESTON — Teachers across West Virginia gathered outside their school buildings for a few minutes Wednesday morning to send a message to the legislature that they plan to closely watch them during the 60-day regular session that starts Wednesday.

Teachers, along with school service personnel, walked off their jobs for nine days last year over a number of issues led by rising health care costs. They received a five percent pay raise and a promise of work on health care through the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

South Charleston High School teacher Emily Comer was part of Wednesday’s walk-in. She said she’s concerned about possible attacks on public education this session.

South Charleston High Teacher Emily Comer is concerned about the charter school issue.

“Not just on teachers and school service personnel but on public education in general,” Comer said. “They’re going to try and impose charter schools on us. We know that our health insurance, PEIA, is still not funded.”

Senate President Mitch Carmichael and new Senate Education Committee Chair Patricia Rucker have been talking about charter schools but there’s apparently no support in the governor’s office. Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday that he wasn’t in favor of charter schools.

Justice said he’s concentrating on improving public schools.

“I just believe that today as we strive to provide a better education for everyone, we don’t really need to cherrypick the privileged until we get our public education system in a really good way,” he said.

Carmichael has said opposing charter schools is supporting the status quo.

American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia President Fred Albert told MetroNews Wednesday he’s thankful for the governor’s stance. Albert also said, while standing with South Charleston High School teachers, the PEAI Task Force took a couple of key steps in the right direction Tuesday with recommendations that will help bring certainty to rising health care costs.

“That’s what we’ve been asking for–some certainty, some stability to our health care benefits. That’s what brought (us) out of the classrooms last year. The move by the Task Force (Tuesday) gives some promising hope that they have listened to us and they are determined to find a longstanding sustainable funding source for PEIA,” Albert said.

Wednesday’s walk-in event across West Virginia brought back memories of last year’s strike with teachers holding signs outside their schools. Comer said she still believes education workers have the support of their communities.

“This isn’t just about us as teachers and school personnel. It’s not just about our paychecks. It’s more about our communities,” Comer said.

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