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Unions say state schools would benefit from jobs bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A week after the Senate knocked down President Barack Obama's $447 billion jobs bill, leaders from the West Virginia Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia AFL-CIO touted the education benefits of the president's plan Monday, saying it would repair run-down schools, hire more educators and funnel resources to West Virginia's neediest children.

"Our education infrastructure cannot wait for the next two to three years," said Kenny Perdue, president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO. "We should not have to wait for the kids in this state to prosper."

Under Obama's jobs bill, West Virginia stands to gain $324 million in funding to update school infrastructure and technology and to expand programs like childhood education and school counseling. Those federal dollars could create 2,100 jobs in projects to improve education infrastructure and support additions of up to 2,600 educator jobs, according to the West Virginia Federation of Teachers. 

The Democrat-controlled Senate scuttled the president's bill Tuesday, failing to muster the 60 votes necessary to break the Senate Republicans' filibuster.

Using Stonewall Jackson Middle School in Charleston as a backdrop -- a school that is over 70 years old -- union members said that West Virginia was in serious need of school improvements and called on Congress to pass the education portion of the jobs bill.

"This money would allow us to build new science and computer labs ... and to remove mold and asbestos from our school," said Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia. "[It] would allow us to upgrade technology in our school so that West Virginia children will have the same advantages as other children who have 21st Century technology in their schools."

Obama's jobs plan calls for $30 billion to update and repair nearly a third of all public schools in the United States and retool facilities at community colleges. Another $30 billion would help stave off 280,000 teacher layoffs across the country. 

"West Virginia is lucky that we have not had any layoffs or furloughs, so that piece of the act would go to other things," said Judy Hale, president of the West Virginia Federation of Teachers. She said that $162.8 million from the layoffs portion of the jobs bill would be used to hire additional counselors, after-school tutors and to expand early childhood education for poor students.

"All the research says that without additional help, our children in poverty can never catch up," said Hale. "This deficit haunts them for the rest of their lives."

West Virginia would receive $161.2 million in money for school infrastructure improvements.

Bob Brown, executive director of the state School Service Personnel Association, called it a "disservice" to send children to schools with old facilities and outdated technology.

According to a 2011 21st Century Fund report, there are clear correlations between the quality of school facilities and student attendance, which Hale called a "huge problem" in West Virginia.

Democrats have said that they plan to move forward with a piecemeal approach to passing provisions of the jobs bill, and Brown hopes that the education portions make it through Congress.

"Our children deserve no less," said Brown.

Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.harris@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.

 


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