MORGANTOWN -- The strike that pitted West Virginia teachers and public employees against the governor and the state Legislature finally has ended. A 5 percent pay raise is law, and students are back in the classroom.
But the Legislature did not shore up long-term funds to avoid critical cuts to the Public Employees Insurance Agency in the future. What’s the takeaway from this battle?
Joshua Weishart, associate professor of law and policy at West Virginia University’s College of Law and the John D. Rockefeller IV School of Policy & Politics, said the real question is whether the state will keep its promises.
“Will the state deliver on its constitutional obligation to provide children with an adequate education? That was the fundamental question raised by the teacher strike,” Weishart said. “There is no greater investment in education that the state can make than recruiting and retaining high quality teachers. Decades of empirical research tells us teacher quality is the most influential educational resource.”
Weishart said, aside from the pay raise, the takeaway from the strike is it became a political movement to vindicate children’s constitutional right to an adequate education.
“The question provoked by the teacher strike remains unanswered,” he said. “A 5 percent raise and a PEIA task force was enough, this time, to end the strike but those gains were quite modest given that school spending and wage competitiveness has been relatively stagnant for the past decade.”
Weishart said West Virginia has simply not devoted enough resources to education.
“Rather than seize the opportunity to invest in education when local property tax revenue increased due to natural gas drilling,” he said. “The state cut its K-12 funding, down more than 11 percent in real dollars since 2008.”
As for what comes next, Weishart said it comes down to more than money and health insurance.
“To keep the focus on high quality teachers, we need a more holistic approach,” he said. “Teachers say they want professional development, administrative support, and respect. And they want to work under environmental conditions that are conducive to teaching."
Weishart ranks West Virginia’s educational system as average compared to other states and believes there is plenty of room for improvement with both funding and support for teachers.
“By most measures of education quality, we are either in the middle of the pack or rank near the very bottom,” he noted. “That’s simply not good enough. The West Virginia Constitution obligates the state to provide an adequate and equitable education to all children.”