Over the objections of Democrats and protesting public school workers, the Republican-controlled West Virginia House of Delegates pushed forward Monday with a sweeping education overhaul bill.
The House technically dealt with two versions of the bill Monday, when it reconvened for the special legislative session on education.
The new version (House Bill 206), which may be on amendment stage on the House floor Tuesday, still allows charter schools in West Virginia for the first time. But it caps the number of them at 10. Plus, it does not include previous anti-strike provisions.
House Republicans also introduced and furthered Monday private school voucher bills. They’d create different kinds of vouchers than what Senate Republicans passed in Senate Bill 1040.
All these possible departures from what the Senate passed would require senators to reconvene their side of the special session to agree, or not, to the House changes.
School workers showed up Monday, many clad in red, and they were joined by some camouflage-shirted United Mine Workers union members. But the protesters’ numbers were thinner than on the days of the statewide school worker strikes that have happened during the past two years.
As of 1:30 p.m., about 1,800 people had gone through the state Capitol’s public entrances, according to Lawrence Messina, spokesman for the state Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety.
By about 6:20 p.m., when the House’s floor session had reconvened, the galleries above the floor were still filled with red-shirted demonstrators.
But only two people were chanting outside the chamber. One was the ever-vocal Perry Casto, also known as “Funkle Sam,” the Uncle Sam-costumed demonstrator who has served as an emcee on many a past strike day.
In the morning, House Republicans quashed a House Democrats attempt to not receive Senate Bill 1039 from the Senate.
That bill, dubbed the Student Success Act by Senate Republicans, would allow for an unlimited number of charter schools in West Virginia, which currently doesn’t permit any.
It also would include pay raises for public school workers, generally increase public school funding and allow county boards of education to reduce the role seniority plays in which employees are laid off or transferred to new jobs.
Although House Republicans kept that bill alive, the committee that House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, sent it to didn’t take it up Monday.
Instead, that committee, one of the four Hanshaw created for the special session, “originated” a similar new bill, House Bill 206.
It would cap the number of charter schools at 10, and would give county school boards near-unilateral ability to decide whether a charter school could open in the county or not.
Unlike SB 1039, the applicant to create a charter school would not be able to appeal to the state Board of Education.
HB 206 also would not include SB 1039’s anti-strike provisions. SB 1039’s provisions would have declared strikes unlawful, said striking is grounds for termination and banned county superintendents from closing schools in anticipation of, or to help, a strike.
That came out of Select Committee on Education Reform C. Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, led that panel, and its 24 members also included House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor.
Committee B did not take up the Senate’s education savings accounts vouchers bill (Senate Bill 1040), which would have provided taxpayer-funded vouchers of about $3,800 per student to attend private or religious schools, or be home schooled.
But that committee did advance two bills to offer tax credits for private school tuition. That includes providing personal income tax exemptions of up to $3,000 a year for private school tuition (House Bill 167) and providing tax credits of up to $5 million a year for businesses and corporations and individual taxpayers who make contributions to nonprofit organizations or foundations that award private school scholarships (House Bill 168).
The committee also advanced a bill to restore annual back-to-school sales tax holidays for the purchase of school clothing and supplies, including computers (House Bill 171).
The then-Democrat-controlled Legislature allowed back-to-school sales tax holidays from 2002 to 2004, but it did not renew them in 2005, citing lost revenue and studies showing that the tax holidays did not necessarily generate new sales, but condensed regular back-to-school purchases to the holiday weekends.
The committee also advanced to the full House a measure to expand Innovation Schools (House Bill 174), and advanced to the House Finance Committee a bill to give $2,000 cost-of-living increases to all retired public teachers and school service personnel. The costs of the pension increases was not immediately available.
Roughly 500 demonstrators gathered for a rally just outside the Capitol. It was led by leaders of the three main public school worker union leaders, the state leader of the AFL-CIO union umbrella organization and the national president of the UMW.
The union leaders focused on the upcoming elections. Josh Sword, the state AFL-CIO president, said the greatest mobilization needs to happen in 2020.
Or else, he said, they’ll be back at the Capitol “saying deja vu all over again.”
The House will reconvene at 1 p.m. A public hearing on HB 206 will be at 8 a.m. Wednesday in the House chamber.