Students Walk Out For Gun Laws; West Virginia Teachers Walk Out For Pay

Feb 25, 2018

Welcome to our weekly roundup of education news. This week, students and teachers made major headlines.

Survivors protest gun laws; Lawmakers offer solutions

Last week, one of the worst mass shootings in modern history left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. This week, students at the school started exercising their voices as part of the #NeverAgain movement. On Monday, dozens staged a 'lie-in' in front of the White House in solemn protest. On Tuesday, students gathered in Florida's state Capitol to press for stricter gun laws, but as the survivors watched from the gallery, state representatives declined to consider a ban on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines. High school students across the country walked out of class throughout the week.

On Wednesday, President Trump hosted survivors of recent school shootings in a "listening session" to discuss ways that these tragedies might be prevented in the future. He offered support for many of their ideas, including arming teachers with guns. He reiterated this support at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual gathering of conservative activists, on Friday outside Washington, D.C.

Florida Governor Rick Scott called for a range of measures to prevent school shootings like the one in Parkland, including a measure that would restrict anyone under 21 from buying firearms.

DeVos supports more school choice for military children

Also at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos offered her support for school choice for military families, according to a report from the Associated Press. Though DeVos emphasized that she isn't backing a specific plan, she appeared at the conference with the president of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative public policy think tank. Last summer, the Heritage Foundation proposed its own bill to allow military families to use funds earmarked for public school education to pay for online courses or other alternatives.

Most children of military families attend public schools. But the 7 percent who attend schools on military bases around the world perform well on academic tests compared to peers at public schools, in part because the system has abundant resources.

D.C.'s public schools' chancellor resigns

Antwan Wilson, the chancellor of D.C. Public Schools, stepped down on Tuesday. His announcement came after months of controversy in the district, but ultimately followed reports that Wilson violated a district policy that he instituted just last summer by transferring his daughter to a popular D.C. high school ahead of a long waiting list. Wilson took the helm at D.C. Public Schools in February 2017 after leading Oakland Unified School District in California. Former Deputy Chief of Schools Amanda Alexander has stepped in as interim Chancellor, a role in which she'll serve for the remainder of the school year.

A school district investigation released last month revealed that one-third of D.C.'s 2017 graduates received diplomas when they shouldn't have. This report followed an investigation by WAMU and NPR Ed on chronic absenteeism at Ballou High School.

West Virginia's public school teachers walk out

Schools across West Virginia's 55 counties all closed on Thursday and Friday as teachers there protested for better pay and benefits. The starting salary for teachers in the state is $32,435, and the average yearly pay for teachers in West Virginia is $44,701 per year. That ranks 48th in the nation.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, joined them at the Capitol in Charleston. She told the Charleston Gazette-Mail, "I'm reporting for duty on the picket line." A day before the walkouts, Governor Jim Justice signed a bill that would increase teacher salaries 2 percent this year and 1 percent for the next two fiscal years. But many say these raises are not a permanent solution.

Changes coming to schools across Puerto Rico

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, and a preexisting fiscal crisis, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló has proposed closing a quarter of the island's public schools. He also announced in early February a bill that would introduce charter schools, vouchers for private schools, and an increase in teacher pay by $1,500 annually. The bill also allows for online or virtual schools, a type of charter school that has generally been controversial and low-performing across the mainland United States.

The Intercept reported this week that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has been involved in crafting this proposal. The Asociación de Maestros de Puerto Rico, a chapter of the American Federation for Teachers, has protested the plan, which it calls "privatization".

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