West Virginia Teachers Take a Stand for Students

Fed up with low pay, health insurance rate hikes, and swelling class sizes, West Virginia teachers have walked off their jobs in every public school in all 55 counties. Organized by local teachers and without formal bargaining rights, the strike spotlights the need for more resources for students and educators.

Teachers Care, Politicians Not So Much: West Virginia ranks 48th in workers’ incomes. But political and economic elites, led by the billionaire Governor Jim Justice, have failed to invest in educating a skilled workforce to attract businesses and jobs.

  • With teacher salaries trailing all but two states (and some educators on Food Stamps), the governor and state legislature balked at raising teachers’ pay, while trying to raise their healthcare costs, prompting the walkout.
  • Some 700 teaching positions are vacant, and math and science are suffering, leaving several positions to be filled by unqualified teachers.
  • These reasons explain why, as Melanie Slack, an elementary school teacher in Martinsburg, explained: “We want to be in our classroom. I love my kids… But sometimes, you’ve got to stand for something.”

Communities & Teachers Together. With many families relying on the schools to feed and care for their kids as well as educate them, the bonds between teachers and their communities are closer than ever.

  • As Brandy Gilbert, a public school parent in Martinsburg, said, “I was just actually telling a few of the teachers outside that some of the kids should be out there with them. Because it not only affects the teachers, it’s affecting the students as well.”
  • In many communities, teachers are making sure that students and families can pick up food during the stoppage.

In McDowell County—the poorest county in the state—the American Federation of Teachers is leading a community partnership to address poverty and economic decline. Through the “Blessings in a Backpack” program, local teachers are continuing to provide packages of food to their students.