In this year’s education legislation debate, homeschooling advocate Kathie Hess Crouse was, among non-officeholders, one of the most outspoken West Virginians in support of alternatives to public schools.
Earlier this year, she argued public school workers shouldn’t get a pay raise after they went on strike against a bill that would’ve advanced those public school alternatives while increasing public school funding.
On Tuesday, Crouse, 49, of Buffalo, announced her plan to again try to become a politician herself.
She’s filed precandidacy papers to run in 2020 as a Republican for the eighth state senatorial district, which covers all of Putnam County east of the Kanawha River and all of Kanawha County north of the river and U.S. 119.
“Conservative values need a voice in the eighth district,” Crouse said at her public announcement outside the state Capitol.
First-term Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, currently holds the seat. He has yet to file precandidacy papers to seek any office, but he said Tuesday that he plans to seek reelection.
Regarding Crouse’s run, Jeffries wrote in a message that “that’s our great privilege, that any citizen can run for public office. I wish her nothing but the best.”
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, introduced Crouse Tuesday. Lawmakers were holding interim committee meetings, and several Republican lawmakers attended the announcement.
“We’re today introducing a candidate that will be advocating on behalf of all of the things that are moving West Virginia forward,” Carmichael said.
Crouse, a stay-at-home mother and soap box derby supporter who used to be a microbiologist, runs the Unsocialized Homeschoolers of West Virginia Facebook group and is vice president of the West Virginia Home Educators Association.
She said further deregulating homeschooling and creating “education savings account” vouchers, which give parents public money to provide their kids private or religious schooling or homeschooling, won’t be priorities for her, but she would be looking into them. She supported the vouchers earlier this year.
“I want our kids to have all the opportunities available to them,” Crouse said Tuesday.
She didn’t provide many specific goals, but did say she opposes tax increases and supports allowing people to carry guns on public college campuses.
Crouse unsuccessfully ran for Putnam County Board of Education in 2010 and the House of Delegates in 2016.
A month before the November 2018 election, state Republican leaders promised raises for public school workers. West Virginians then voted to keep Republicans in power in both legislative houses.
In January, Senate Republicans revealed a twist. They bundled their promised raises into a bill that would do many other things, including:
- legalize charter schools in West Virginia
- create the vouchers
- generally increase funding for public education.
Jeffries, along with all other Democrats, voted against the bill. It still passed the Senate, but the House killed it in February, on the first day of this year’s two-day strike.
Shortly after that House vote, Crouse spoke against passing a pure pay raise bill for public school employees.
“I agree teachers, school service personnel and State Police in West Virginia do deserve a pay raise, [however], I believe at this time that those who went on strike should be removed from the bill and allow only for the State Police — for them to have their raise,” Crouse said at a public legislative hearing. “Later, when the time comes for teachers to receive their raise, it should be accompanied with education and system reform.”
Senate Republicans never agreed to pass the pure raise bill. Gov. Jim Justice called a special legislative session on education, and lawmakers and the state Department of Education held listening sessions for input.
“My No. 1 choice is school choice,” Crouse said, when asked at one forum what the state’s top educational needs were.
In June, lawmakers finished passing, and Justice signed, a new omnibus bill (House Bill 206). It legalized charter schools, granted raises and increased public school funding, but didn’t include the vouchers.
Right before Crouse’s announcement Tuesday, Justice and members of his staff exited the Capitol from the doors right behind where Crouse and her lawmaker allies were standing.
“Here’s the governor,” Carmichael said with a laugh.
“Who am I endorsing today?” Justice joked back. Carmichael said Crouse.
“Good, good,” Justice said, but he continued walking and didn’t stay for the event.