By Joselyn King, The Intelligencer
West Virginia leads the nation when it comes to the percentage of children under age 6 living in poverty, and this statistic has the state’s teachers seeing red.
Educators across West Virginia will “Go Red for Ed” on Wednesday, the first day of the West Virginia Legislature 2019 regular session. Teachers from across the state are set to stand outside local schools a half-hour before classes start Wednesday, wearing red to call for more funding of children’s programs.
The teachers’ goal this session will be to shine light on the issue of child poverty, the mental health issues that result in the classroom that can be attributed to poverty, and the need for more mental health counselors in the schools, according to Jenny Craig, president of the Ohio County Education Association.
Statistics provided by the Children’s Defense Fund for 2017 show West Virginia leading the nation in the percentage of children under the age of 6 living in poverty, and fourth in the overall percentage of impoverished children.
Craig said the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources has proposed guidelines for the number of support professionals needed in the state’s public schools. The DHHR calls for 705 more social workers, 330 more school psychologists and 380 more school counselors to be hired in the schools.
The cost of hiring these additional employees in annual salaries and benefits is $100 million, according to Craig.
The teachers are changing their focus one year after walking out for nine instructional days in 2018, and scoring a 5 percent raise for all state employees.
“We’re calling this our ‘state of the schools’ address,'” she said. “We don’t want the community to see the teachers outside, and think they are on strike again and want another pay raise.
“This year, we are about focusing on students, and making sure we have the professionals in the schools to meet student needs.”
More and more students also are being raised by their grandparents as a result of the state’s opioid epidemic, Craig said.
“We can’t educate with curriculum alone,” she said. “We need these services for these children to thrive.
“We are educating our future, and we have to give them a chance to be successful. Before we can teach them, we have to address their mental health needs. We have to give them a chance to learn.”
Two other issues also are important to teachers as the 2019 legislative session approaches, according to Craig.
She said they are concerned that new Senate Education Committee Chairman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, is a proponent of charter schools and home schooling.
“We want to make sure they don’t move toward charter schools, privatization of schools, and take funding away from public schools,” she said.
Teachers also want lawmakers to move toward finding a solid funding source for the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency fund. Health care premium costs for teachers and other state employees remain an unresolved issue from the 2018 walkout.