CHARLESTON – The state Senate could begin work on the House of Delegates’ education bill as early as Monday.
“I look forward to calling us back in on Monday, perhaps would be the earliest,” State Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson) told host Hoppy Kercheval on MetroNews’ statewide “Talkline” radio program June 21. “We’ll just have to see the condition of the bill.”
The omnibus education bill passed the House of Delegates earlier this week. The biggest change is for the addition of up to three charter schools, with more possible later. But it also includes pay raises for teachers and service personnel, more support personnel, help to fill highly needed positions, open enrollment and financial support for counties in need.
House Bill 206 is different from Senate Bill 1039, which passed the Senate a few weeks ago.
The Senate bill didn’t have a limit on charter schools. It also included provisions to make teacher strikes illegal, and it wouldn’t have allowed county superintendents to close schools to help if teachers walked out. It would have made it possible to fire school personnel if they went on strike and/or have pay withheld for strike days.
“I’m pleased that the House of Delegates took the opportunity on Wednesday night to vote for our state’s children and vote for a package of comprehensive education reform,” Carmichael said after the House passed the bill June 19. “This bill will bring desperately needed resources to our schools and counties, and it will provide parents with more educational options for their children.
“Above all, it will help ensure that we address the needs of West Virginia’s students both inside and outside of the classroom. It has taken a great deal of hard work and compromise by Delegates and Senators from both parties to reach this point. I am proud of the Delegates who voted to give our most precious resource, our children, a new tomorrow for their educational futures.
“I am eager for the Senate to pass this bill when we reconvene, and I am hopeful that Governor (Jim) Justice will show his support by signing it quickly.”
Justice indicated he would sign the bill if it reaches his desk.
“I’m thrilled that the House took a major step toward building new opportunities for our children,” the governor tweeted minutes after the bill was passed. “Today all of us should be proud with the progress we’re making towards helping our children and our education community.”
When the Senate does come back to take up the House bill, the question will be if 80 percent of the senators vote to allow rules to be suspended so it can be passed in one day instead of the regular three-day process.
Also on the June 21 edition of “Talkline,” Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso (D-Marion) said he planned to address that issue with fellow Democrats.
“It looks like it’s pretty well greased now,” Prezioso said of the House bill. “It’s going to happen, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.”
West Virginia Republican Party Chairwoman Melody Potter praised the bill and lawmakers for work on it.
“I applaud Republican legislators in the West Virginia House of Delegates for passing a much-needed comprehensive education reform bill,” she said. “This legislation will ensure students have what they need to succeed, parents have the freedom to decide the best education path for their children, and we invest in good teachers.
“I am hopeful that the state Senate will act swiftly on this reform legislation, and encourage Governor Jim Justice to sign the education reform bill that reaches his desk.
“I am proud of our Republican leaders who stood firm in our party's commitment to comprehensive education reform that empowers parents with options and tools that allow them to chart the best course for their children's education.”
EdChoice, a national nonprofit that promotes state-based educational choice programs, said more needs to be done.
“West Virginia is well positioned to deliver educational opportunity to families across the state,” President and CEO Robert Enlow said. “A few weeks ago, the state Senate passed a package of reforms that created many new options for students, including open enrollment for public schools, charter schools and education savings accounts.
“The governor and some members of the House are reluctant to embrace those proposals. The House omnibus bill that heads back to the Senate next week provides far fewer options, which is disheartening.”
Enlow, however, said there still is time for collaboration.
“One thing we’ve learned in more than 20 years of advocating for educational choice nationally is that change takes time and grows best from the ground up,” he said. “K-12 education is a state issue – not just because that’s where it’s primarily funded. West Virginians, not outsiders, should be the ones proposing solutions to the state’s educational issues.
“That’s why we work with and rely on partners on the ground that listen to and stand up for West Virginians and their needs. Those needs include making sure all students can access a schooling option that works best for them – whether that’s public, private, charter or otherwise. Those options should be robust and available to all, not arbitrarily capped or limited.
“We hope that lawmakers will continue to work to find common ground on behalf of West Virginia students, but even if they don’t, the foundation has been laid for future conversations. We will continue to bolster our partnerships in West Virginia well beyond this legislative session and to provide research and other information to support the case for educational choice.”