by Rachel Anderson–
Schools were closed for a total of nine days in each of the 55 counties in West Virginia as teachers participated in a statewide walkout. As a result, teachers will receive a 5 percent increase in salary.
Mercer County Teacher Faith Workman said, “It makes me so proud that my state, little ol’ West Virginia, stood for change peacefully and proved that through persistence and unity, positive results are possible.”
The teachers were taking a stand against the state legislature which controls all state workers’ salaries. According to Workman however, it was more than just better pay that they wanted. They wanted to be taken more seriously and teach the classes that they were trained to teach.
According to a New Yorker article by Benjamin Wallace-Wells, a bill had been proposed in WV to actually lower teacher-certification standards in order to fill vacancies in schools. Teachers felt as if this was proof that the legislature didn’t hold public education to a very high standard.
Jameson Jones, a kindergarten teacher in West Virginia, said, “Some teachers are saying they could have demanded more. Even though this raise looks large on paper, some support staff will see less than $50 additional on their paychecks.”
Jones also said that many West Virginia teachers believe that better benefits and higher pay would be more appealing to licensed teachers and correct the teacher shortage issue in the state.
The biggest issue, according to Workman, is the rising cost of insurance premiums. She said she works a summer job and her friends work part-time after school just to make ends meet. This issue is the next big obstacle for the teacher’s unions.
A new Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA) task force is about to be introduced to the public education issues in West Virginia. According to Brad McElhinny, in an article on the West Virginia Education Association website, “the end will come months from now… ‘you have to know what it is before you know what you’re fixing'”.
This new task force is aiming to correct healthcare, insurance and economics, but several issues must be taken into account and no matter what changes are made, it will cost money.
“I am very proud of my colleagues. However, we also think there are many other issues that deserve attention,” Jones said.
The West Virginia walkout was potentially the beginning of an even bigger battle for educators in the state, but thanks to the success in West Virginia, other states in the country are following suit. A complete public education revolution could be just around the corner.