CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia's 20,000 public school teachers are mostly organized into two powerful unions, giving them great political clout. Legislators are eager to get thousands of teacher votes at election time, so they regularly pass protective state laws desired by the unions. As a result, for example, it's nearly impossible for a school board to fire an unfit teacher without years of costly court battling.
Now the power of the unions looms against a reform project, the statewide education audit. They're sure to fight its recommendation that principals be allowed to hire and promote outstanding teachers, regardless of seniority. Even worse, unions may oppose using Peace Corps-type volunteers in Teach for America to fill vacancies in West Virginia classrooms.
Education reporter Amy Julia Harris revealed that the nine-member state Board of Education held a retreat at Stonewall Resort -- and a recording of discussions showed frustration over union obstacles.
Board members strongly favored creating a West Virginia Teach for America unit, to receive idealistic young volunteers from a nationwide program to meet the state's teacher shortage. Last year, the state lacked 690 full-time teachers.
However, a state law passed at union behest sets technical employment requirements that will exclude many TFA volunteers. Any attempt to soften this law in the Legislature is sure to meet union opposition.
It's a shame that the tail wags the dog in West Virginia -- that entrenched teacher unions have power to dictate school laws and deprive the Mountain State of the service of outstanding alternative teachers. Such eager young educators would be good for West Virginia children.
Study after study finds dismal learning levels in West Virginia, well below the U.S. average -- which lags behind international averages. The problem is so severe that Gov. Tomblin ordered the $750,000 statewide audit to find ways to upgrade West Virginia public schools. One of the study's many suggestions was to accept volunteers from Teach for America.
While the unions endlessly seek higher teacher pay, they always say their only interest is to help children learn. If that were true, they would welcome TFA volunteers to fill this state's classroom vacancies.