Share story

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia senators on Thursday advanced education legislation viewed by teachers as retaliation for last year’s statewide strike.

As teachers in red shirts watched from the upstairs gallery, the Republican-led Senate voted 18-16 as a committee to advance the overhaul package to the full Senate, where it later underwent a first reading. Republicans Bill Hamilton and Kenny Mann joined Democrats in voting against it.

A full Senate vote could come early next week on whether to send the bill to the House of Delegates.

Scott High School librarian Heather Ritter took advantage of a day off from school due to frigid weather to monitor the bill’s movement with other teachers at the Capitol.

Other than a proposed raise for teachers that would put about an extra $30 in her pocket each paycheck, “everything else is negative” about the bill, she said.

“It’s horrible. I don’t want it. I don’t want any of it. Just take it away.”

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice has said he would veto the bill in its current form.

Teachers who received a 5 percent pay raise after last year’s nine-day strike would get an additional 5 percent raise in the bill along with other state employees.

But the bill also would create public charter schools, establish savings accounts for families to pay for private school and require teachers to sign off annually on union dues, among other things. It also has a clause that would invalidate the entire bill if any part is struck down.

Dozens of teachers and parents attended a rally against the bill Thursday night at the Capitol.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael has said the bill would improve outcomes for West Virginia students. He noted that Justice ran as governor in 2016 on the notion that West Virginians were tired of being ranked at the bottom among the states in many areas.

On Monday, the Senate approved a rare motion to have the entire chamber consider the bill as a committee rather than send it to the finance committee, where there may not have been enough votes to pass it.

Senators spent several hours asking questions about the bill Wednesday and heard witness testimony. Senate Democrats offered no amendments to the bill before Thursday’s vote.

“I would’ve thought there would be more discussion,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union.

Minority Democrats said it would have been fruitless to further discuss the bill, given the support mostly along party lines. There will be time to debate it later.

“It would have been an exercise in futility,” said Sen. Ron Stollings, a Boone County Democrat.

The national “Red4Ed” movement began last year with the nine-day strike in West Virginia. It moved to Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado, Washington state and Los Angeles, where teachers scored a major victory this month after a six-day strike.

Now it’s back where it started. Union leaders have said a strike is an option. So far, unionized teachers in one county have voted to authorize a one-day walkout if necessary.