UPDATE | W.Va. governor, lawmakers and teachers react to Senate passing education bill

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ/WV MetroNews/AP) -- UPDATE 6/3/19 @ 5:35 p.m.
The West Virginia Senate passed the Student Success Act Monday morning, a bill very similar to the previous education omnibus bill they passed during the regular session.

The West Virginia Senate passed the Student Success Act Monday morning.

The bill was passed by an 18-15 vote, which was not a surprise to many because that vote number has been the same on every education bill they have voted on since regular session.

Legislators made amendments to the bill during the weekend, including the addition of a ban on teacher strikes.

Under this bill, if teachers decide to strike they would not get paid and students wouldn't be allowed to participate in extra curricular activities such as sports.

There are things that educators like about this bill, such as a 5 percent pay raise for teachers and a $115 a month raise for all service personnel, and wrap-around services for students such as counseling.

However, this bill still includes charter schools, which the majority of educators have been against.

Heather DeLuca-Nestor, a teacher from Monongalia County today says adding charter schools and education savings accounts is the last thing teachers want.

"We are not doing a good enough job, but it is not the teachers and education itself, it's the constraints that they have put on us and they keep saying you know we want to give them options," Deluca-Nestor said. "We want to give back local control, but that's only under their terms."

In this version of the bill, there are a lot of guidelines and rules for charter schools but there still isn't a cap on the amount that could be allowed in the state. Mostly, local school boards would decide whether to have charter schools or not.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael says it's time to compromise because nobody can have 100 percent of what they want.

"If somebody doesn't want a charter school, don't charter it," Carmichael said.

He continued, "But if you want it, if you feel it is best for your county, for your students and for the success of your students, then by all means why would you want to prohibit that."

WSAZ's Leanne Shinkle sat down Monday with Gov. Jim Justice to get his reaction to the bill passing, as he is against the legislation.

"I believe the House will break it up into smaller bills and I am a proponent of that, as well, because that way we can really vote on things we understand," Justice said.

The governor says this is a waste of taxpayer dollars if the House and Senate cannot agree.

"I don't know that the Senate will accept that back, and if that is all we are going to do, bat it back and forth amongst each other, they we should end this."

Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, brought a chart to the discussion on the floor Monday showing his research on student achievement.

The poster was labeled as '252 Influences and Effects Related to Student Achievement.'

At the top of that list was collective teacher efficacy, teacher clarity, direct instruction, and student expectations.

Education savings accounts and charter schools are towards the bottom of the list.

"Charter schools and school choice which are so often talked about, they are at the bottom of the list of things that impact student achievement and so it just puzzles me why we continuously argue about those things that don't have much of an effect on student achievement," Baldwin said.

He says he feels like the education discuss may be better discussed during regular session.

"We did this today, we could do this again in a couple of months and that is the unfortunate part," Justice said. "We've got a lot of issues pressing the state but all we do is argue about education."

The bill will now be sent to the House of Delegates. They reconvene on June 17, and leaders in the House have said they want to break these issues up into separate bills.

If the House makes any changes to the bill, it will once again have to go back to the Senate. Senate President Mitch Carmichael says he is happy to work with the House, but he is hoping this bill makes it through without any changes.



UPDATE 6/3/19 @ 11:55 a.m.
The West Virginia Senate passed the Student Success Act Monday morning.

Lawmakers voted on the bill just before noon. It passed with a vote of 18-15.

The legislation, also known as Senate Bill 1039, is considered a new version of the omnibus education bill. Lawmakers held a special session to work on it.

Legislators made amendments to the bill over the weekend, including the addition of a ban on teacher strikes.

Monday marked the third and final reading of the bill in the state Senate. The legislation will now go to the House for consideration.

UPDATE 6/2/19 @ 6:43 p.m.
West Virginia Senate Republicans have added a measure to ban teacher strikes to their sweeping education proposal.

Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled chamber approved the amendment 17-14 Sunday with heavy opposition from Democrats.

Republican Sen. Charles Trump sponsored the amendment and said it's meant to keep schools running. He says it's not meant as retaliation for teacher walkouts this year and last.

Democrats argued that teachers have the right to protest.

The president of West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers says the move is clearly retribution for past strikes.

The broad-based Republican education plan would allow the state's first charter schools.

Gov. Jim Justice on Sunday told reporters it would be preferable for the GOP proposal to be broken up so lawmakers know what they're voting for.

The amendment comes on the second day of a special session focused on education in West Virginia. Lawmakers will return Monday at 9 a.m. for further discussion on the omnibus education bill.



UPDATE 6/1/19 @ 7:30 p.m.
Lawmakers met at the Capitol for special session Saturday to work on the Student Success Act which is considered a new version of the omnibus education bill.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael hoped the process would only take on day but did not have enough votes to suspend the rules which would speed up the bill process and allow the Senate to skip readings.

"As you saw today the minority party was unwilling to suspend the rules and act on the Student Success Act or the Educational Savings Act. In spite of the fact, that over three thousand times the rules have been suspended to act on bills quickly," said Carmichael.

Democrats say the bill has too many components and needs to be broken down.

"We think this bill is in direct violation of the constitution with a single object. We that there is more than one object in here. We think this is a bill that can't be fixed. Subsequently, they're not going to let us introduce any amendments tomorrow that are our ideas so I don't think there are going to be any amendments tomorrow, just going to let the bill go through as is," said Roman Prezioso, Minority Leader.

Republicans argue back that they are not afraid of separating the bill but it's unnecessary because, everything in the Student Success Act is essential to student improvement.

Carmichael says due to the test scores of West Virginia, a change is critical.

"If we were number one in America, then West Virginia as an outlier would be looked to by other states to say yes let's do what West Virginia is doing. But that's not what's occurring, we've near last and we're an island. We need to change this, this needs to be a movement across the state that says our children are as gifted, blessed and talented as any in America, we can do better," said Carmichael.

Special Session will resume Sunday at 2:00 p.m. for the amendment stage.

UPDATE 5/30/19 @ 5:50 p.m.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael wants to spend this Saturday on the Student Success Act, a new version of the omnibus education bill.

Sen. Carmichael says the 144-page bill is different from the controversial Senate Bill 451. However, American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia President Fred Albert said many educators still feel it is a form of retaliation.

"It's not any easier to get on board with," Albert said.

Carmichael said the bill is a bipartisan compromise, and they have taken many recommendations from state board of education officials.

Following the State Board of Education's recommendation, lawmakers removed education savings accounts from the debate. The accounts would have been given to parents who decided to pull their child out of the public school system and utilize other methods of education. However, ESAs will be discussed on their own in a separate bill.

The Student Success Act includes historic teacher pay raises that teachers were promised after the 2018 strike. It also includes tax credits for classroom supplies and scholarships for teachers committed to staying in a field seeing shortages for two years, like math or science.

"We've taken a real effort to reach out to the education community," Sen. Carmichael said.

Educators have consistently asked for more mental health help and funding in schools. "Teachers love what they do, but they do need help. Sometimes the situations their kids have in their classrooms are beyond the scope of their expertise," Albert said.

The new bill includes wrap around service funding that can be used for mental health services or school nurses.

"That's a good thing. That's a good part of this bill," Albert said.

Lawmakers also removed the non-severability clause that was in Senate Bill 451, meaning if one part of the bill failed the entire bill was rejected. "That is much better. That was a ridiculous clause to have in that last bill," Albert said.

The bill includes additional funding for special education students and removes paycheck protection.

There are some aspects of the bill that are not entirely controversial, but raising questions from educators. The bill provides funding for counties in the form of a block grant, meaning county boards of education have the ability to decide what to do with the money. Carmichael said several studies point to a need for more local control, but educators want regulation.

"I think we have to be careful before we go down that road, and make sure we have a mechanism in place that's going to absolutely control how that money is being spent," Albert said.

The bill also implements a study into class size reduction, but Albert said those studies have been done before.

"If they want to look at statistics, they're there. Smaller class size in relationship to achievement, I think that study has already been done," Albert said.

Charter schools will again be discussed on the Senate floor. The Student Success Act would allow counties and higher education institutions to create charter schools in their areas. Sen. Carmichael said the provision gives parents a much-needed choice.

"The parent is the one who makes the decision as to what is the right education environment for that student," Carmichael said.

However, Albert said educators stand firm against charter schools. He said wording about work stoppage is also concerning in the Student Success Act. If the bill passes, teachers and service personnel would not be paid through a work stoppage.

AFT leaders called on their members to attend the special session on Saturday, and Albert said he expects a high turnout. He said, although it is summer, work stoppage is always on the table depending on the outcome.



UPDATE 5/28/19 @ 1:30 p.m.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael wants to spend this Saturday on the Student Success Act, a new version of the omnibus education bill.

Carmichael released a draft version of the 144-page education bill on Friday, saying he hopes senators can read it, consider it, propose amendments and be ready to act.

“I’m asking them as a courtesy to the taxpayer of West Virginia to make those decisions on the bill and at least allow us to come to special session on Saturday and act on this bill,” Carmichael, R-Jackson, said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

Carmichael sent a note to senators on Friday, urging them to be ready for a Saturday session.

“Our intention is to begin and complete senate action on these measures on Saturday, June 1, 2019,” Carmichael wrote. “Obviously, this will require a high degree of coordination and cooperation within Senate membership. I look forward to working with you to achieve this goal.”

The bill is similar to an omnibus education bill that was considered during the regular legislative session, but it is not exactly the same.

Education savings accounts, a voucher-style concept that was controversial in the regular session, is not in this bill. Charter schools would be authorized in the new bill, but some of the details are different.

Some concepts -- like counties receiving education funding from the state in the form of block grants -- are newly-introduced.
Another new twist is expansion of the Mountaineer Challenge Academy, which provides education to at-risk youth in a quasi-military environment.

Despite the variations in the bill, Carmichael said he hopes senators can reach agreement in one day.

Doing so would require four fifths of the senators to vote in favor of suspending the rules that require reading bills on three separate days before passage.

The West Virginia Senate has 20 Republicans and 14 Democrats.

“It will require cooperation because, as you know, it takes a super-majority vote to suspend that rule,” Carmichael said. “So there are those that if they are not prepared or unwilling, or if they just simply want to waste taxpayer money, then they can do that.”

Democrats in the Senate introduced seven individual bills last week when the Legislature was in special session for one day to consider other matters. The Democrats pushed for those bills to go ahead for consideration, but they were assigned to the Senate Education Committee.

Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, objected to considering the bill in one day.

“That is the Senate President’s intention. He said he wants amendments done before hand, he doesn’t want a lot of debate. He wants this to all happen within one day,” Baldwin said on “Radio Roundtable” on WJLS.

Baldwin advocated for consideration of individual bills.

“They have chosen once again to undercut the process and shove an omnibus bill,” he said. “We can do some positive things to impact student achievement in West Virginia, and we refuse to do that because we keep entering into this political process.

“There are good things we can all agree to. I think we should vote on those individually. It is troubling what’s been thrown in this omnibus.”

The House of Delegates is taking a different approach.

Delegates are dividing among four select committees to consider individual bills. At least 10 have been introduced in the House of Delegates already, but Speaker Roger Hanshaw has said dozens will be considered over about a week.

Delegate Jeff Pack, R-Raleigh, said he favors taking some time during special session to focus on education policy.

“I feel like we will be deliberative,” Pack said on WJLS.

“We’ve spent all this time listening. We’ve been to all these forums. We’re into a special session. We owe it to ourselves, to everybody to at least give it a fair shot. I, for one, am not in particular rush.”



ORIGINAL STORY 5/24/19
The state Senate is offering some heavy reading about “betterment” for your holiday weekend. Senate leaders have released a proposed omnibus education bill in advance of a special session resuming. The “Student Success Act” is 144 pages long.

“The release of this draft of the West Virginia Student Success Act is a major effort by the Senate to advance the cause of education reform in a bipartisan manner,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael stated.

“This bill boldly incorporates many suggestions and recommendations from the education forums that were held throughout the state. It reflects the input of teachers, students, and parents. There is widespread recognition that our state’s education system can be improved.”

Carmichael, R-Jackson, said the bill will provide pay raises for teachers, choices for parents and support for students.

Democrats in the Senate had already proposed seven individual education bills dealing with issues they believed have consensus.

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, indicated some of those ideas have been included in the latest big education bill.

“We are encouraged to see the Senate leadership embrace much of our proposed legislation,” Prezioso stated. “We know that our ideas will work, and we are happy they agree. We’re very glad to have some common ground to move forward on.”

Prezioso said Democrats will have to assess aspects of the big bill that were not represented by their own introduced bills.

“Our caucus looks forward to reading and reviewing the bills in their entirety before making further decisions about the legislation,” Prezioso stated.

A special session on education “betterment” is expected to resume in June.

This all started when Gov. Jim Justice and members of the Republican majority promised a pay raise for educators last October.

During the regular session, the majority in the Senate then rolled the pay raise into an omnibus bill — Senate Bill 451 — with other education issues, including some that were controversial. The House eventually tabled the bill.
The House of Delegates has been introducing individual bills. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw said he expects dozens to be introduced.

“We spent a lot of time on Senate Bill 451 during the regular session talking about things that were, at least in the minds of the members, things that they wanted to consider as standalone pieces,” he said this week.
“They wanted to consider charter schools as a freestanding concept. They wanted to consider the school funding formula as a freestanding concept. So that discussion is difficult to be had in the whole basket of a single bill.”

The House also has established four select committees of all the members to consider legislation.
The challenge will be determining what can pass among the 100 members of the House of Delegates, said Senator Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh.

“Nobody can predict what’s going to happen there,” Roberts said. “Hopefully there will be enough support in the House to get the governor to sign the bill.”

The draft of a comprehensive education bill will help people assess what might pass during the upcoming session, Roberts said.

“This is not 451, but it is in the same vein as Senate Bill 451,” Roberts said on “Radio Roundtable” on WJLS-AM, referring to the omnibus bill considered during the regular session.

“Does it have all of the elements of 451? The answer is, not it does not. Does it have some new elements that came out during the teacher forum? Yes it does.”

Roberts said the new big bill treats some of the more controversial education policy issues differently than the prior bill did.

“Will the bill include charter schools? That’s the big question. I wish I had a drumroll right now. The answer is yes and no,” he said.

Charter schools could be handled “with county boards opting in and without a central charter school board.”

“One of the things that drew a lot of ire from people was this independent board that would be running charter schools. Put in there that the individual counties would have say-so,” he said. “The individual counties, they can make it a charter school if they want.”

Education savings accounts won’t be in the big bill, Roberts suggested. Those set aside taxpayer dollars for students who are moving from public education to private schooling.

But there could be a separate bill that structures education savings accounts as a refundable tax credit.

“The education savings accounts will not be in this draft,” Roberts said. “It was just kind of a no-win situation.”