February 19, 2019 / 5:00 PM / in a month

West Virginia teachers to continue strike, in charter schools fight

(Reuters) - A union for West Virginia teachers vowed on Tuesday to continue their strike to oppose charter schools, expressing distrust of lawmakers despite scoring a legislative victory.

Striking teachers celebrate as lawmakers reject a bill that would have opened the first charter schools in the state, at the Capitol building in Charleston, West Virginia, U.S., February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Lexi Browning

A bill that would have opened the first charter schools in West Virginia failed to win approval in the state House of Delegates on Tuesday after Governor Jim Justice, a Republican, vowed to veto it.

The bill passed the Republican-controlled Senate on Monday, prompting labor unions to call a strike that closed most of the state’s 700 schools, which serve 277,000 students.

Union leaders vowed to continue the strike on Wednesday after the House of Delegates voted 53-45 to effectively kill the legislation. Union officials cited concerns lawmakers who support the bill might try to revive it.

Teachers would converge on the State Capitol building in Charleston for “one more day to make sure there are no legislative antics,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Fred Albert, president of the labor group’s state chapter, said in a statement.

Teachers took to picket lines around the state and at the State Capitol on Tuesday to oppose the bill.

Justice called on the state legislature at a news conference on Tuesday to provide pay raises for state employees, including teachers, and urged educators to return to work.

Charter schools are publicly funded but run by private groups. Their advocates say the schools offer parents a wider array of educational opportunities for their children.

West Virginia is one of only six U.S. states that has not passed laws to allow for charter schools, according to non-profit research group the Education Commission of the States.

Critics of charter schools say they benefit profit-driven private organizations and that some of them oppose organized labor.

The American Federation of Teachers called the bill an act of retaliation for a strike last March that secured higher pay for teachers in West Virginia. That strike was followed by similar actions in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Last year’s nine-day strike ended with the teachers securing a 5 percent pay rise in West Virginia, home to some of the lowest-paid educators in the country.

Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles Editing by Richard Chang, Lisa Shumaker and Paul Tait

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