Kenny Mann, despite leading the state Senate Education Committee for two years, was one of the few Republican state senators to oppose his party on major education bills, including the one legalizing charter schools.
On Thursday, he announced he won’t be seeking reelection in the 2020 race.
But he said it’s not because he’s out of step with his party, or because others have filed pre-candidacy papers to compete in the GOP primary for his seat representing Fayette, Greenbrier, Monroe and Summers counties.
Mann, a funeral director, said he bought Groves Funeral Home, in Union, in January 2018. He said he had been working there before, but he wanted to own it and the then-owner was having health issues.
“We had to take it over,” Mann said. “That’s all it was, just I have to be here at the business.”
His first and only Senate term expires at the end of 2020.
Republicans passed the sprawling omnibus education bill (House Bill 206) during this year’s legislative session.
The bill combined the pay raises that Republicans had promised public school workers a month before the 2018 elections with other public education funding increases.
But those boosts were also bundled in a bill with other provisions that many school employees opposed, such as allowing West Virginia’s first charter schools, giving parents public money to home-school or private-school their children, and making it harder for school workers to strike.
While the vouchers, anti-strike and some other controversial provisions didn’t make it into the final bill that became law, the omnibus did succeed in legalizing charter schools.
Before this all started in this year’s legislative session, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, removed Mann from his position as chairman of the Senate Education Committee and replaced him with Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson.
Rucker, a home-school and private-school advocate and vaccine requirement opponent, ran the omnibus in the committee and got it passed out within just two days. She then served as a vocal advocate for it for the duration of this year’s legislative session.
Mann, who said he felt charter schools and non-public school vouchers could hurt public education, joined Sen. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, as the only Senate Republicans who voted with Democrats against the bill.
In 2018, Mann was also one of two Republican senators who voted against a bill (Senate Bill 335) that would have required school union members to re-agree each year to have part of their paychecks withheld to pay union dues.
Of losing the chairmanship, Mann said Thursday he thinks Senate leaders knew where he would stand on the omnibus. That’s because, when he was chairman in past years, he said he chose not to run bills that eventually became parts of the omnibus.
“I just kind of stand my ground on how I, if I’m chairman, I just want to do it this way,” Mann said. “Before session even started, Mitch just made that decision. They never said [if you] get on board with this you can keep this job, it was nothing like that. I think they just knew Kenny isn’t going to change his mind on this.”
“Out of respect to the [Republican] caucus, and I do fully respect the caucus, I think they saw education needing to go in a different direction than what I was willing to lead and take it,” he added. “And I respect them and I truly wouldn’t wish failure upon anyone because if these plans fail, our children would fail.”
Mann said he nevertheless respects Carmichael, as Mann said he respected other colleagues whether they agreed or not.
Mann did support other major education legislation, like House Bill 2711. That bill eliminated the Regional Education Service Agencies, plus a state office that sent inspectors into public schools. It also nixed the mandate for public school year calendars to have 180 separate instructional days and the statewide standardized test, Smarter Balanced. That led to the state adopting the SAT and American Institutes for Research tests as the new statewide standardized tests.
Mann said his top political ambition is to become governor but — at least for now — he’s stepping away from politics.