W.Va. House considers final passage of omnibus education bill

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ//WV MetroNews/AP) — UPDATE 6/19/19 @ 7:40 p.m.
West Virginia House members are voting Wednesday night on their version of the omnibus education bill during an extended special session.

Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates are back at the state Capitol to take up the issue of education reform.

According to media partner WV MetroNews, a proposed amendment by Del. Mark Dean, R-Mingo, to eliminate all the charter schools language from the bill is defeated. The vote was 45 ayes, 52 nays, 3 absent.

“I just can’t bring myself to believe this is the right idea for West Virginia,” Dean said while wrapping up more than an hour of debate.

The whole legislative process started early Wednesday with a public hearing and then consideration among lawmakers of some issues that have been divisive and controversial among educators.

House lawmakers had passed the following:

  • An amendment that changes student support formula to 5 per 1,000 students.
  • An amendment to study the effects of class sizes.
  • Changed the number of charter schools in the bill. Three schools will be allowed in 2023, then three years later they will reevaluate and another three could be added, etc. Democrats said this is a “smokescreen” and would lead to unlimited charters over time

The following amendments had been rejected:

  • The first amendment proposed would have provided an alternative to charter school. It would’ve provided flexibility in areas of greatest need and allow innovation on a local level according to sponsor Mike Pushkin.
  • Amendment proposed trying to change the number of times a job can be posted. Teachers did not like that the bill said there was no limit, and amendment aimed at reducing that number to one reposting of a job
  • $2,000 cost of living increase to retired teachers and service personnel. Those in opposition said it was illegal.
  • Amendment for county referendums on charter schools.
  • Proposal for no county board votes on charter schools until board members have gone through an electoral cycle.

Other amendments that are up for debate include the handling of seniority, as well as a proposal for a four-day tax free weekend on school supplies in West Virginia.

We have a crew at the Capitol. Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.


UPDATE 6/18/19 @ 6:30 p.m.
The West Virginia House on Tuesday has advanced its version of the omnibus education bill to a third reading.

Lawmakers will have the ability to amend the bill after a public hearing Wednesday. No actual changes were made Tuesday to House Bill 206, which could be approved Wednesday.

Earlier this month, the Senate passed its version of the wide-ranging proposal. It contains a pay raise for teachers, mental health services for students and a provision that allows county boards to fire educators who strike.

During the special session, educators have been filling the statehouse’s halls to speak out against a sweeping Senate GOP proposal that would allow the state’s first charter schools.

Republican House members say they hope to pass a bill that Gov. Jim Justice and the Senate can get on board with.

“Certainly our goal is to make this legislation the strongest piece of legislation that we can,” Del. Paul Espinosa, R-District 66, said.

Espinosa said amendments from the Republican side are for more technical reasons, rather than changing or adding provisions.

Teachers say they’re disappointed that this bill continues to move through the Legislature, because they were led to believe each issue would be discussed individually. The bill contains charter schools and fails to mention class sizes, which are all reasons teachers and many Democratic lawmakers say they are against this bill in its current form.

Republican lawmakers say they have heard support from educators because the bill gives more control to local school districts.

“So now what we will see tomorrow is we see a bunch of amendments come to the table, and hopefully it makes the bill better. I know there are some things we’re taking out that causes some heartache with a lot of members and teachers across the state. So hopefully those things stay out,” Del. Doug Skaff, D-District 35, said.

Skaff say Democrats will propose amendments that will provide more freedom to teachers in their classroom and limit class sizes.

We spoke with educators who say they plan to make their voices heard again Wednesday.

“At the end of the day, I want to be able to put my head on my pillow and say I’ve done all I can for the children of West Virginia and for the public, so I say you just stay the course,” said Tracy Lemasters, a Jackson County school administrator. “We keep saying the same message. The message is not going to change from us. It stays the same.”

The House is scheduled to reconvene at 11 a.m. Wednesday. Meanwhile, the public hearing is set to get underway at 8 a.m.

All other legislative bills discussed Tuesday during the special session were advanced to a second reading.

Keep checking the WSAZ app for the latest information.


UPDATE 6/17/19 @ 1:50 p.m.
West Virginia teachers are again protesting at the Capitol as the House of Delegates reconvenes for the special legislative session on education.

The House met Monday morning and then broke off into committees to debate bills.

Educators are filling the statehouse’s halls to speak out against a sweeping Senate GOP proposal that would allow the state’s first charter schools. Union leaders have called for the special session to come to an end.

The Senate passed the wide-ranging proposal earlier this month. The bill also contains a pay raise for teachers, mental health services for students and a provision that allows county boards to fire educators who strike.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice called the special session after the legislature failed to agree on education measures during this year’s regular session.


ORIGINAL STORY 6/17/19
Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates are back at the state Capitol to take up the issue of education reform.

After strong opposition from teacher groups and two attempts by House members to reject it, The Student Success Act is moving forward.

Several bills involving education reform are under consideration by four special house committees.

The full House was to resume its full floor session at 6 p.m. Monday.

The leaders of West Virginia’s three big education unions held a press conference to express concerns about the complex education bill passed by the state Senate.

Union representatives called for an end to the special session, releasing a poll of 1,500 voters. They hope the omnibus bill will be broken up and voted on separately. They said, “our hope is in the house but not sure if the house is listening.” Last week, the minority leader of the West Virginia house of delegates, Tim Miley, along with other house democrats delivered a letter to Gov. Justice calling the special session a “waste of taxpayer money.” Teacher representatives believe a halt in education discussion will give legislative leadership time to mend fences and thoroughly prepare legislation that will be mutually agreed upon for the 2020 regular session.

One bill being discussed by house lawmakers today would remove the anti-strike provisions of the bill passed by the State Senate and would set a cap of 10 authorized and operating charter schools. However, educator groups say they are not interested in charter schools at all. If the bill allows for even one, they will not be in favor of it.

They do hope lawmakers will address other issues like adding school counselors, school nurses and other wraparound services.

The poll shows 71% of West Virginians have heard about The Student Success Act. 62% oppose it, while 29% support it.

The poll was conducted by Change Research. The margin of error is 2.5%.

The AFT-WV, WVSSPA, WVEA leaders and special guest UMWA, President Cecil Roberts, are expected to address the crowd at noon on the back West Virginia Capitol steps.

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