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W.Va. teacher unions rank 13th

Nov. 05, 2012 @ 12:00 AM

CHARLESTON -- The Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now recently evaluated the strength of each state's teacher unions or organizations.

In a report released Oct. 29, West Virginia, which has both the West Virginia Education Association and American Federation of Teachers-WV, ranked 13th after being evaluated in five areas: resources and membership, involvement in politics, scope of bargaining, state policies and perceived influence.

Despite the absence of mandatory collective bargaining and moderate financial resources, West Virginia's teachers unions have a strong presence in politics, enjoy favorable state policies, and have garnered a reputation for influence.

Resources and membership, tied for 31st: The study found that 68 percent of teachers are in one of the two organizations, per-pupil spending is 16th in the country and that 55.3 percent of that goes toward teacher salary and benefits.

Involvement in politics, tied for 4th: The study found West Virginia's two organizations were more involved in state politics that their counterparts in nearly every other state in the past 10 years, particularly with political contributions.

Scope of bargaining, tied for 28th: Collective bargaining is not permitted by state law in West Virginia for state employees

State policies, tied for 1st: The study found that West Virginia's policies are better aligned with traditional union interests than those in any other state. The state does not support performance pay and does not require student achievement data to factor into either teacher evaluations or tenure.

Perceived influence, 6th: Although West Virginia has voted for Republicans in the last three presidential elections, it is traditionally Democratic and pro-labor, particularly at the local level. Survey respondents rank them as one of the two most influential entities in shaping education policy, behind only the state board of education. They note that Democrats running for state-level office need teacher union support to get elected, and that the positions of state education leaders are often aligned with those of the union. Further, stakeholders agree that teacher unions are effective in protecting dollars for education even in times of cutbacks, and in warding off education reform proposals with which they disagree.

In the summary, surveyors said the state's two teacher organizations are some of the most powerful in the nation. They also noted the teacher evaluation bill that was passed during the 2012 legislative session, describing is a water-down version of what was introduced, particularly in how little student achievement is tied to evaluations. "With West Virginia's student performance among the lowest in the nation ... it would surely benefit youngsters if unions focused more on their achievement and less on teacher comfort."

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