UPDATE | W.Va. Senate passes education reform bill

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ//WV MetroNews/AP) -- UPDATE 6/24/19 @ 10:30 p.m.
After an interruption from severe weather Monday night, the West Virginia State Senate passed the education reform bill by a vote of 18-16, making charter schools one step closer to becoming reality.

The education reform bill passed by an 18-16 vote in the West Virginia Senate.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael was in a celebratory mood afterward, saying this was a long time coming.

"This is the moment we will mark as a turning point in the education delivery mechanism in our state," Carmichael said.

The bill includes a number of proposed changes to the education system, including pay raises, incentives to fill in-demand positions, and financial support for struggling counties.

The bill also allows for the creation of charter schools.

"We've made changes in the face of criticism, in the face of vitriolic protest," Carmichael said.

The scene Monday night played out in stark contrast to the past couple regular sessions when huge crowds of teachers from across the state striked and protested. Monday night a small number of educators in the rafters watched quietly and left disappointed.

After the vote, WVEA President Dale Lee said he didn't think a protest on this night would've changed anything.

"The educators and the public across West Virginia repeatedly said we don't want charter schools, and yet that's what we do," Lee said.

When Lee was asked about the possibility of a lawsuit to block the bill, he said their attorneys were looking at legal ramifications. He also expected the vote to have an impact on next year's elections.

Next the bill will go to Governor Jim Justice's desk. That's expected to happen within the next few days.

Governor Justice tweeted after the vote, saying he applauds the Senate for passing the education bill, and he looks forward to signing it.

While the Senate was discussing the bill, the area was placed under a tornado warning, and the lights started flickering.

They went into recess and everyone in the Senate chamber went downstairs for safety until the storm passed.



UPDATE 6/24/19 @ 8:25 p.m.
The West Virginia Senate on Monday night passed the education reform bill, our crew at the scene reports.

The measure passed by an 18-16 vote.

Just last week, Senate President Mitch Carmichael told reporters that he approved of the House GOP education bill (House Bill 206) just as it was.

That legislation will allow for the first charter schools in West Virginia.

The special session resumed at 5 p.m. Monday and was interrupted briefly during a tornado warning in Kanawha County.

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



UPDATE 6/24/19 @ 4:27 a.m.
The West Virginia Senate reconvenes Monday evening for a special session, where they will take up the House Education Bill.

Senate president Mitch Carmichael says he approves of the House Education Bill as is, and hopes the Senate can pass it without making any amendments.

Gov. Jim Justice says he will sign the House bill as is.

The Senate reconvenes at 5 Monday evening.



UPDATE 6/20/19 @ 4:35 p.m.
West Virginia's Senate leader says he wants a House GOP education bill that would allow the state's first charter schools to pass his chamber as is.

Republican Senate President Mitch Carmichael told The Associated Press on Thursday that he's not going to try to amend the proposal.

The House passed the measure late Wednesday. It would allow for a staggered implementation of charter schools, limiting the state to three charters until 2023 then letting three more go up every three years after that.

Teachers union leaders have led massive protests at the Capitol against charters.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice has tweeted support for the bill, calling it a "major step toward building new opportunities for our children."

Carmichael says he wants the Senate to reconvene next week.



UPDATE 6/20/19 @ 1:35 p.m.
W.Va. Gov. Jim Justice says he would sign House Bill 206, the omnibus education bill, if it makes it to his desk.

At a event to celebrate West Virginia's birthday, the governor talked about the bill passing late Wednesday night.

"I'll sign it and be very, very proud to sign it. I mean, it's a good bill and everything, and it does make things better, and it does reward our teachers and our service personnel. All of our people that are involved in so many different ways, and so it's a good bill. A really good bill. I'll proudly sign it," Justice said.

The bill passed 51 to 47.

The plan includes more than a dozen reform provision including a phase-in of the state's first public charter schools.

The proposal now moves to the Senate, which may meet as early as next week.

The bill allows for a staggered implementation of charter schools, limiting the state to three charters until 2023 then letting three more go up every three years after that. County education boards would authorize the charters.

The bill increases state funding for education by $149 million including education worker pay raises and $30 million for wrap-around support services for students.

Democrats have repeatedly railed against efforts to install charters in the state as a move driven by outside interests that'll end up steering money away from public schools.

Teachers filled the chamber's galleries Wednesday to oppose the bill.

Justice, a Republican, called the special legislative session after lawmakers failed to agree on education earlier this year.



UPDATE 6/19/2019 @ 11:10 p.m.
West Virginia House Members voted Wednesday night to pass House Bill 206, the omnibus education bill.

The vote passed 51 to 47.

The plan would allow the state's first charter schools.

Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled chamber approved the measure late Wednesday. The proposal now moves to the Senate.

The bill allows for a staggered implementation of charter schools, limiting the state to three charters until 2023 then letting three more go up every three years after that. County education boards would authorize the charters.

Democrats have repeatedly railed against efforts to install charters in the state as a move driven by outside interests that'll end up steering money away from public schools.

Teachers filled the chamber's galleries to oppose the bill.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice called the special legislative session after lawmakers failed to agree on education earlier this year.

In a series of tweets late Wednesday night Gov. Jim Justice (R) said:

"I’m thrilled that the @wvhouse took a major step toward building new opportunities for our children. #WV #WVGov"

His next tweet said:

"I’ve said from day one that education needs to be our centerpiece here in WV because it’s truly the key to driving our economy and unlocking our potential. Today all of us should be proud with the progress we’re making towards helping our children and our education community."

A spokeswoman for the West Virginia Senate tweeted shortly after the bill was passed that as of 11:26 Wednesday night it was not clear when the senate would reconvene. She said that information will be announced as soon as possible once the details are ironed out which she is hoping happens Thursday.

Keep checking the WSAZ App for the latest information.



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.

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.