The conversation is about W.Va. students
A legislative conversation that was supposed to center on what West Virginia students need - an education - has focused once again on what education unions demand instead.
"This is not an educational reform bill," said Judy Hale, president of the West Virginia Federation of Teachers. "This is a teacher-bashing bill."
Education unions are once again attempting to mischaracterize changes in a failed education system as an attack on teachers. It is nothing of the kind.
West Virginians do value their teachers. Other than the unions, no one has cast this attempt to deliver effective public education in terms that are derogatory to teachers.
In fact, the Senate Education Committee, which advanced the bill, worked hard with union representatives to address their concerns and made quite a number of changes:
So yes, teachers will still get seven paid holidays.
Seniority will continue to be a factor in hiring decisions. Teachers will get not one but at least four faculty senate meetings each year.
But no, the committee said, the school year will not be shaped by employees' insistence that it run no longer than 43 weeks because they have summer plans, but by the employer's insistence that counties actually give kids 180 days of education.
And no, a state that has uncertified teachers in 600 classrooms will not reject highly motivated college graduates who pass tests and take training just because they lack education degrees.
It will instead treat them with great suspicion but might hire a few.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's bill will now move to the Senate Finance Committee and to the House Education and Finance Committees.
Education unions are huffing and puffing and threatening to go nuclear if they don't get what they want.
"Teachers are very, very frustrated, as frustrated as I have seen them since 1990," Hale told Mannix Porterfield of the Register-Herald in Beckley.
Legislators should be clear about this.
West Virginians are also very, very frustrated. The denizens of the statehouse have spent decades delivering what employee groups want instead of what students need.
West Virginia has a high-cost system that fails kids. That is not acceptable.
Unions are supposed to represent the interests of their members. There's nothing wrong with that.
But legislators are supposed to fight for the interests of kids.
It's time they did so.