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The House Education Committee meets earlier this legislative session. Photo by Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography.

MSS legislative coverage: W.Va. teachers ask for higher pay, help in the classroom; lawmakers propose concealed carry and bathroom bills

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the Statehouse Spotlight newsletter published by Mountain State Spotlight. Get coverage of the legislative session delivered to your email inbox Monday – Thursday; sign up for the free newsletter at mountainstatespotlight.org/newsletter

By Henry Culvyhouse, Mountain State Spotlight

School systems across West Virginia are seeing critical vacancies among teachers, substitutes, bus drivers and other service personnel. But lawmakers have been working on bills that would put more guns in schools and make life harder for transgender children.

Test scores in reading and math hit all-time lows in 2022 and have gradually rebounded since. One fifth of all West Virginia students last year were chronically absent from school. 

Teacher morale is at an all-time low, according to a survey of 700 teachers by the West Virginia Education Association. More than 90% of teachers surveyed said pay and student behavior were their top two concerns. 

Lawmakers have sometimes focused elsewhere. Education committees in the House and Senate have passed bills that would allow teachers to carry concealed weapons, require students to use the restroom assigned to their biological sex at birth, allow for intelligent design to be discussed in the classroom and have middle schoolers watch a video produced by a pro-life group showing the development of a fetus. 

“These are not the issues our members ask about,” said Fred Albert, president of AFT-WV, the state’s largest teachers union. “They are begging for help with salaries and school discipline.”

Dale Lee, president of the WVEA, the other teacher’s union, said educators also perceive a “disrespect” by having lawmakers try to “legislate how we teach.” 

Last week, the House Education Committee advanced a bill that would allow school boards to permit teachers, service personnel and principals to carry concealed weapons on school grounds, which has already received criticism from gun control groups like Everytown USA. 

The committee also passed a bill which would require children to use school bathrooms and locker rooms in accordance with the sex on their birth certificate; this could see legal challenges right away since a federal appellate court already ruled that unconstitutional in 2020

“These types of bills suck all the air out of the room,” said Del. Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, vice chair of the committee. “But we’re trying to run good legislation that will improve our schools.” 

He pointed to a bill that the committee advanced last week that would give teachers a $5,000 raise, higher than the governor’s proposed 5% raise. 

Over in the Senate, lawmakers passed a bill that would allow the teaching of intelligent design — the theory that life and the universe had some kind of intelligent creator behind it. It is currently pending in the House. 

The Baby Olivia bill — requiring a video from a pro-life organization called “Live Action” to be included in public school curriculum — is currently pending in the Senate Rules committee, usually a spot where a bill will languish in limbo until either reconsidered or it unceremoniously dies at the close of the session. 

Education Chair Sen. Amy Grady, R-Mason, who has said publicly that she is working on a school discipline bill, did not return a request for comment. 

Reach reporter Henry Culyhouse at henry@mountainstatespotlight.org

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