BY: TAYLOR BENNETT, POLICY COORDINATOR, THE HUB
Since the last time we brought you the Legislative Hubbub, public outcry on behalf of West Virginia’s teachers has escalated. Folks are making noise, but there is so much more to it than that.
We’ve talked before about the power of “my opinion” becoming “our opinion.” We’re currently seeing that concept in historic action. This week I waited in line for over an hour with a woman and her daughter, both of whom are teachers in Logan County. As we waited in the rain to get into the Capitol, she told her mother had also been a teacher and had participated in the 1990 strike. Now three generations of their family have taken the fight for better pay and adequate benefits to the Capitol.
Teachers, schools, and the education system as a whole have long been pillars of WV communities. School systems are often the largest employer in a county; teachers educate our future workforce and help ensure that parents are able to participate in the workforce now; schools become the central location for community activity; they even provide food and healthcare to students who aren’t able to get those things elsewhere.
Here at The Hub, our work focuses on bringing folks together to build stronger communities from the ground up, but strong communities are difficult to build when there is a pillar crumbling.
Though a teachers’ strike might present some logistical concerns for families across the state, it’s important to note that teachers are taking action not on an isolated challenge, but on a broken system that they’ve been living with for decades. The women I met, and everyone standing with them are part of an ever-growing group people who are fighting to fix a system that’s in shambles after nearly 80 years of neglect.
As legislators struggle to come to agreement on what ought to be done about the teachers’ strike, the focus has often been on short-sighted fixes, with Legislative leadership sticking to the story of not having enough funding to go around.
It’s important to mention that while these suggested fixes are being discussed, legislators could and definitely ought to explore systemic, long-term solutions to the foundational problems which have been escalating for so many years. So far, this type of solution hasn’t been discussed publicly.
Additionally, while the system is set up to offer opportunities for legislators to work these fixes, they are merely opportunities. Some might be well-suited to meet teachers’ needs, some are band-aid style patch ups that don’t address the causes of an issue. And above all, these opportunities accomplish nothing unless legislators decide to act on them.
West Virginia’s challenges deserve far more than the band-aid type fixes that will only serve to pass the buck on to the next Session. If legislators can’t work together to begin to address the systems level challenges that teachers are striking about, this pillar of our communities will continue to erode and our goal of creating stronger, more vibrant communities will be even further away.
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