UPDATE: W.Va. House Education Committee reviewing controversial bill

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WV MetroNews/WSAZ) -- UPDATE 2/6/19 @ 12:36 p.m.
Two controversial parts of a big education bill were removed as the House Education Committee took up the legislation for the first time today.

Committee members heard a summary of a strike-and-insert amendment that would make some significant changes, our media partner WV MetroNews reports.

A non-severability clause was no longer in the bill

Nor was a ‘paycheck protection’ provision that would require education union members to sign off on their dues annually.

The committee substitute bill that was explained by staff counsel during an hour and a half Wednesday morning also made several other significant changes from the way the bill was passed out of the state Senate.

Charter schools were capped at six.

The bill no longer allows for virtual charter schools.

Education savings accounts, which are vouchers for students moving from public school to a private education, would be limited to special needs students.

A provision in the Senate bill that would have withheld wages during a work stoppage was changed to allow for those wages to be repaid once school days are made up.

House Education Committee Chairman Danny Hamrick told committee members this is just a starting point, and he believes the bill will change as it goes through the legislative process.

The committee recessed after a morning meeting and intends to resume its work this afternoon.

As the bill moves through the committee process, delegates and committees can continue to propose amendments. Once the bill hits the House floor, delegates could vote to accept either the original Senate version or whatever has been produced by committee.

“It’s addressing many of the concerns I’ve heard about,” House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said during a floor speech today, describing a cautious approach to school choice issues.

The big bill does a lot.

It includes long-promised pay raises for educators. The bill also opens the way for charter schools and educational savings accounts that would set aside public dollars for private schooling for a certain number of participants.

The bill would also let teachers bank personal days for retirement credit. It would give counties greater latitude in paying some teachers more for in-demand expertise. It would open enrollment for students to cross county lines.

It would allow counties to raise levy rates up to a set maximum, rather than relying on state formula.

The bill is also referenced to the House Finance Committee.

It passed out of the Senate on an 18-16 vote.

UPDATE 2/4/19 @ 3:45 p.m.
After three readings, West Virginia lawmakers passed a controversial education bill in the Senate Monday.

Senate Bill 451 now heads to the state House for approval.

Two lawmakers we spoke with say they don't believe the bill will get through the House. It's due to go to the Education Committee first, but the House Speaker will determine that.

The education chair said members will be reviewing the legislation for several days before they would take the bill to the full House, possibly making amendments as a committee.



UPDATE 2/4/19 @ 1:45 p.m.
Lawmakers are back in West Virginia Senate chambers Monday for a third reading of a controversial education bill.

Senate Bill 451 is broad-ranging legislation. The omnibus bill touches on a variety of education issues, starting with pay raises for teachers. The bill would also let teachers bank personal days for retirement credit. It would give counties greater latitude in paying some teachers more for in-demand expertise.

Legislators resumed the debate on the omnibus bill at 11 a.m. Monday. We are awaiting a vote.

You can watch the session live here.

UPDATE 2/1/19 @ 6:15 p.m.
West Virginia lawmakers on Friday evening have advanced a controversial education bill to a third reading, our crew at the scene reports.

Legislators will resume discussion at 11 a.m. Monday in Senate chambers on what has become known as the omnibus education bill.

One amendment that would have deleted everything in the bill except the increase for salaries and wages was rejected. No more amendments are to be considered.

Senate Bill 451 is broad-ranging legislation. The omnibus bill touches on a variety of education issues, starting with pay raises for teachers. The bill would also let teachers bank personal days for retirement credit. It would give counties greater latitude in paying some teachers more for in-demand expertise.

Those for and against the bill voiced their opinions on the Senate floor. Sen. Patricia Rucker said the pay raise by itself was not enough.

"We wanted to go comprehensive education reform," Rucker said. However, Sen. Mike Romano said creating a bill with more than 60 components was a strategy. "They know they're trying to do things that they've lost on for the last four years," Sen. Romano said.

Much of the back-and-forth in the Legislature boils down to a vision of whether pumping public dollars into semi-private schools will improve education in West Virginia or drain school resources that are stretched thin already.

Each amendment rejected was proposed by a democrat. Rejected amendments involved things like striking out the section about charter schools and getting rid of the non-severability clause, meaning if one part of the bill fails, the whole bill fails.

"So that means the teachers' promise of a 5 percent pay raise is going to go right out the window as soon as some of these unconstitutional provisions are challenged," Sen. Romano said.

Some of the passed amendments include placing a cap on family income eligible for educational savings accounts and creating a bonus for teachers with good attendance.

"It's really thrilling to have a group of people that are excited about moving this state forward," Senate President Sen. Mitch Carmichael said.

Changes to the bill were ultimately minor and those in the Senate chambers expect the bill to move to the House of Delegates on Monday.

"My hope is when they force it out on Monday, on the same votes you've seen on every amendment today, that the house will take it and just drop the whole bill and send the teacher pay raise back to us," Sen. Romano said.

The legislation passed its first reading Thursday. In a rare move earlier this week, the Senate majority voted to bypass the Senate Finance Committee and instead let the whole membership consider the education bill. It's referred to as the Committee of the Whole.

Acting as a committee, the Senate advanced the bill on Thursday, but the legislation must go through three full readings in the Senate before moving to the House. The third reading will take place on Monday.



UPDATE 2/1/19 @ 11:40 a.m.
West Virginia lawmakers are back in Senate chambers Friday for the second reading of a controversial education bill.

You can watch the session live here.

Senate Bill 451 is broad-ranging legislation. The omnibus bill touches on a variety of education issues, starting with pay raises for teachers. The bill would also let teachers bank personal days for retirement credit. It would give counties greater latitude in paying some teachers more for in-demand expertise.

Much of the back-and-forth in the Legislature boils down to a vision of whether pumping public dollars into semi-private schools will improve education in West Virginia or drain school resources that are stretched thin already.

The legislation passed its first reading Thursday. In a rare move earlier this week, the Senate majority voted to bypass the Senate Finance Committee and instead let the whole membership consider the education bill. It's referred to as the Committee of the Whole. Acting as a committee, the Senate advanced the bill on Thursday, but the legislation must go through three full readings in the Senate before moving to the House.

UPDATE 1/31/19 @ 12:28 p.m.
A controversial education bill is moving forward in the West Virginia Senate after passing its first reading.

Senate Bill 451 is broad-ranging legislation. The omnibus bill touches on a variety of education issues, starting with pay raises for teachers. The bill would also let teachers bank personal days for retirement credit. It would give counties greater latitude in paying some teachers more for in-demand expertise.

Much of the back-and-forth in the Legislature boils down to a vision of whether pumping public dollars into semi-private schools will improve education in West Virginia or drain school resources that are stretched thin already.

Lawmakers wrapped up discussion in Senate chambers by noon Thursday, advancing the bill to a second reading Friday. The Committee of the Whole passed the legislation with a vote of 18-16.

Earlier this week, the Senate majority voted to bypass the Senate Finance Committee and instead let the whole membership consider the education bill. The full Senate serving as one committee is rarely seen.

Legislators spent the entire day Wednesday discussing the bill. Most of the debate focused on opening the way for charter schools, allowing for a certain number of vouchers that people could use for private school and giving county boards greater leeway in raising property tax levies.

The bill is more than 130 pages long and needs to go through three readings by the full state Senate before it goes to the House for consideration.

The Senate is adjourned until 11 a.m. Friday.

UPDATE 1/30/19 @ 8:10 p.m.
Senators spent hours debating a controversial, broad-ranging education bill.

Most of the debate focused on opening the way for charter schools, allowing for a certain number of vouchers that people could use for private school and giving county boards greater leeway in raising property tax levies.

Senators began their discussion at 11 a.m. Wednesday and finished at 8:30 p.m.

There was not yet a vote.

Debate over the education bill is expected to reconvene at mid-morning Thursday. And that won’t be the last of the argument.

This round of discussion took place during a rare Committee of the Whole, which was all senators acting as one committee. After this, the 145-page education bill would still need to go through three readings by the full Senate, too.

Senators spent hours Wednesday asking questions of staff counsel. That was followed by an evening session of presentations by educational experts.

Much of the back-and-forth boiled down to a vision of whether pumping public dollars into semi-private schools will improve education in West Virginia or drain school resources that are stretched thin already.

“The purpose of our public schools is to give every child a great education, and that is exactly what charter schools can do,” said Emily Schultz of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Terry George, superintendent of Fayette County schools, told lawmakers charter schools and Educational Savings Accounts would sap resources from local schools.

“This bill is going to lead to probably one of the largest consolidation efforts this state has ever experienced,” George said.

The bill touches on a variety of education issues, starting with pay raises for teachers. The bill would also let teachers bank personal days for retirement credit. It would give counties greater latitude in paying some teachers more for in-demand expertise.

The bill would require teachers to sign off annually on union dues. It stipulates that if there’s a work stoppage that closes schools, those involved would not be paid.

It’s all tied together with a non-severability clause, saying that if any part of the bill is struck down then it would all be void.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, questioned how frequently such a clause appears in legislation.

“What’s the educational purpose of this clause? Is there any value to it that’s going to advance education?” he asked. “To me, it’s mean-spirited.”

A provision that would have raised maximum class sizes from 25 to 28 — or even 31 — was removed from the bill prior to the latest version’s introduction.

The full Senate serving as one committee is rarely seen.

Earlier this week, the Senate majority voted to bypass the Senate Finance Committee and instead let the whole membership consider the education bill.

Two Republican members of the Finance Committee — senators Kenny Mann and Bill Hamilton — said they’re opposed to the omnibus education bill, putting its passage there in doubt.

Republicans contended the Committee of the Whole isn’t a way to circumvent the usual system. Instead, they said, it’s a way to allow all senators to hear about the important bill at the same time, whether they’re on that committee or not.

All of this happened the same day the state Board of Education, during its own long emergency meeting, issued a series of resolutions about the big education bill.

The state school board said each aspect of the big bill should be separated and considered on its own merits.

School board members and Superintendent Steve Paine expressed frustration that they hadn’t been consulted about the various changes to education policy.

“I’ve been stewing about this. And I’ve been stewing about this a long time. I respect the Legislature, and I respect the legislative process,” Paine said. “I would ask that they reciprocate and respect the expertise at the Board and the Department of Education.”

Gov. Jim Justice, speaking on MetroNews’ “Talkline” a day after he came out against the bundled bill, said this fight could have been avoided.
Justice again said the pay raises that he promised in October should be running as a single bill.

“I would just say for crying out loud, this was such a simple, simple thing and what we’ve done is created divide. We should never have gone down this path. Now, we can make it better. There’s no question we can make it better,” he said.

The governor said the Republican majority in the Senate has picked an unnecessary fight.

“The Republicans, they’re not the Evil Witch of the West. They’re trying to make things better,” Justice said. “But there are certain things that are not buttons that we don’t need to take on at this time.”

Justice said more communication would have gone a long way.

“Somebody should have come to me and said ‘Governor, how do you feel about this?’” He said he was left out “to some degree, but I’m not going to whine about that.”



UPDATE 1/30/19 @ 2:19 p.m.
West Virginia lawmakers are back in chambers to discuss Senate Bill 451 after a recess Wednesday afternoon.



UPDATE 1/30/19 @ 12:07 p.m.
The West Virginia Senate is in recess until 12:45 p.m. Wednesday

UPDATE 1/30/19 @ 11:20 a.m.
The West Virginia Senate is in chambers Wednesday to discuss an omnibus education bill.

Many teachers across the state have said Senate Bill 451 is detrimental to public education.

The 144-page bill has more than 60 components, including things like teacher salaries, education overhauls and funding for charter schools. Unions are in support of the pay raise, but don't believe the all-or-nothing approach is fair. At Monday's meeting, teachers spoke out about everything they say is wrong with the bill, like charter schools and increased class sizes.

In a rare move, members of the West Virginia Senate voted Monday to skip the committee process for the education omnibus bill and send it straight to the full body.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice says he would veto the bill if it passes in the Legislature. Justice said at a news conference Tuesday that lawmakers should instead consider passing his original intent of giving teachers and other state employees a 5 percent pay raise without the multiple facets of the bill now before the Republican-led Senate.

UPDATE 1/28/19 @ 10:25 p.m.
In a rare move, members of the West Virginia Senate voted Monday to skip the committee process for the education omnibus bill and send it straight to the full body. Later that evening, unions across the state met to discuss their next moves.

Dinah Adkins, co-president of the Kanawha County Education Association, said teachers and service personnel were stunned when they heard about the bill. She said the Senate did not consult any West Virginia educators when creating the bill.

"Even if it means us not getting a raise or funding PEIA, we do not want this passed because of what it's going to do to our children," Kanawha County teacher Leahann Guthrie said.

Many teachers at the meeting said the senate's proposed omnibus education bill is detrimental to public education.

"It's an absolute waste of paper. It's not worth the ink," teacher B.J. Fontalbert said.

Adkins said the bill is retaliation after the strike in 2018. However, Senate President Mitch Carmichael said that is not the case.

"It is incredibly important for anyone that wants to focus on providing a world class education for our citizens, this is the right bill to do it," Carmichael said.

The 144-page bill has more than 60 components, including things like teacher salaries, education overhauls and funding for charter schools. Unions are in support of the pay raise, but don't believe the all-or-nothing approach is fair. At Monday's meeting, teachers spoke out about everything they say is wrong with the bill, like charter schools and increased class sizes.

Adkins said teachers will be watching legislators closely as they consider their next move and nothing is off the table.

"Teachers are ready to take action if they need to. Do they want to? No, but do they have a red shirt and are they ready to roll? Absolutely," Adkins said.

Carmichael says the Senate as a whole will act as a committee, and they will meet in the chamber to discuss the issue when a fiscal note is ready. He would name a chairman, and other committees would be canceled.

He's encouraging educators and teacher unions to come and voice their points, and educators are hoping legislators will listen to those who spend every day in the classroom.



UPDATE 1/28/19 @ 5:35 p.m.
In a rare move, members of the West Virginia Senate voted Monday to skip the committee process for the education omnibus bill and send it straight to the full body -- just moments after a coalition of West Virginia education groups met at the Capitol to speak out about their concerns over the bill.

This is unsettling for educators already concerned about the 144-page bill.

"Unfortunately they are playing games with the lives of our children's futures and the livelihood of our educators," said Dale Lee, president of the WVEA.

The 144-page bill has more than 60 components, including things like teacher salaries, education overhauls and funding for charter schools. Unions are in support of the pay raise, but don't believe the all-or-nothing approach is fair.

"The Senate leadership is using this bill as a way to exact revenge for the actions of our educators this past spring. Sadly it seems it is more important for them to get revenge than to follow their own legislative process than work to improve our schools," Lee said.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael says this bill isn't about revenge, but moving up in the ranks.

"There is no retaliation, what we are doing is providing education for the next generation of West Virginia," Carmichael said. "It is incredibly important for anyone that wants to focus on providing a world class education for our citizens, this is the right bill to do it."

Carmichael says the move to send it to the entire Senate now, rather than a committee, is to get everyone on the same page early in the process.

Fred Albert, president of AFT West Virginia, says they want to keep the teachers in school, but the possibility of another strike is not out of question.

"We have members that are very unsettled about this omnibus retaliation bill," Albert said. "We are listening to our members, so as Dale Lee has said, everything is a possibility."

Carmichael says the Senate as a whole will act as a committee, and they will meet in the chamber to discuss the issue when a fiscal note is ready. He would name a chairman, and other committees would be canceled.

He's encouraging educators and teacher unions to come and voice their points.



ORIGINAL STORY 1/28/19
A possible West Virginia education reform bill has educators concerned.

"It's a show of disrespect by the Senate to the educators who stood strongly," said Dale Lee, President of the West Virginia Education Association.

The bill could include the 5% pay raise Gov. Jim Justice has promised, but it may include education overhauls, such as charter schools, and education savings accounts.

Things education associations, represented by Lee, don't support.

"We have problems with several of the bills. We have problems with the educational savings account, the charter schools, the payroll protection, we have difficulties with different parts of the bill, but to combine them all in one just makes it even worse," said Lee.

Worse, and according to educators, illegal.

They sent a letter to Senate President Mitch Carmichael to voice their concerns.

In the letter, they said the possible bill would violate the Single Object Provision of the Constitution, something Carmichael said just isn't true.

"Anyone that questions that just is not familiar with the process or with the Constitution," Carmichael said. "It is completely constitutional. It is about general education reform."

Reforming West Virginia's education system will take a lot of change, according to Carmichael.

He says that is why the possible bill has taken on the nickname, "The Omnibus Bill."

"All these components of the education reform package are put together to lift the level of achievement for our students, and taking these things individually, or peace-meal, is not the proper way to reform an entire system that's been allowed to atrophy and fail our students," Carmichael said.

Carmichael said students are his top priority, but educators disagree and feel they're getting short-changed in the process.

A feeling they say they're familiar with.

"You saw thousands of educators here last year because of the anger and mistrust," said Lee. "For the Senate to put this all in one omnibus bill, is really a slap in the face to the educators once again."

Now they wait to see if this bill becomes reality.



 
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