The West Virginia Legislature finished passing a much-amended version of the omnibus education bill Monday, sending it to Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who has said he will sign it.
Justice’s signature on House Bill 206 would open West Virginia to its first charter schools. That would be one of many effects of the sweeping legislation.
The Senate voted 18-16 Monday to pass HB 206, which is similar to Senate Bill 1039, which senators passed early this month. The House didn’t push forward with SB 1039.
Instead, House Republicans, last week, passed HB 206, which includes some significant departures from SB 1039, such as dropping the Senate’s anti-strike provisions.
The final passage vote was delayed for a moment when senators and others in the state Capitol sought shelter amid a storm that temporarily caused the lights and digital vote tally boards to flicker on and off.
When the Senate received HB 206 on Monday, Republicans shot down Democrats’ attempts to amend the bill, including through removing the legalization of charter schools, and passed it in the same form the House did.
Sens. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, and Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, joined all Senate Democrats in voting no in the final passage vote.
Hamilton said he was particularly struck by one person’s comment that charter schools would “put us back 65 years” — to before the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education U.S. Supreme Court decision that banned racial segregation in schools.
“I hope that person who sent me that email, I hope they’re wrong,” Hamilton said.
Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said that “when teachers are willing to give up a raise to stop charter schools they know are going to defund the public school system, I think you have to listen to that.”
Only Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, voted Monday against suspending state constitutional rules. The rules suspension paved the way for the Senate to have a final vote Monday on the bill, instead of official bill “readings” on three separate days.
Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said voting against the rules suspension would’ve just meant wasting taxpayer money by prolonging the special session.
“It wasn’t going to make any difference, the outcome was inevitable, they had the votes,” Prezioso said. “… They weren’t going to accept any amendments.”
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said “there is no defense of the status quo, no one can defend the status quo. And we’ve made changes in the face of criticism, in the face of vitriolic protest.”
“These are the things that I’m so proud of the state Senate for leading the thought process, and leading the effort to finally break the hold, the stranglehold, of union bosses on this state and put West Virginia on a path of progress and prosperity and opportunity, as it relates to our education system,” he said.
If signed, HB 206 would allow students to attend public schools in counties they don’t live in, if the receiving county’s board of education approves. The school board of the county losing the student no longer would have the ability to block the transfer.
HB 206 also raises public school workers’ pay and increases school funding more generally.
Additionally, county school boards would be freed to pay teachers in “critically needed” or hard-to-fill subjects and geographic areas more than other teachers.
The bill also removes a statewide pay-equalizing provision that keeps some counties’ pay from greatly exceeding the pay in other counties. Right now, counties may differ to a limited extent.
Teachers who primarily work as certified math teachers would be considered to have three extra years of experience on the state minimum salary schedule, which generally provides annual automatic pay bumps based on years of service.
The same would go for full-time, certified special education teachers.
Each classroom teacher and librarian would get $300 each school year for school supplies, materials or equipment, up from the current $100.
The bill requires the governor to work to expand the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy, a military-like school affiliated with the West Virginia Army National Guard, to a second, unspecified location in Fayette County.
Its existing location is at the National Guard’s Camp Dawson, in Preston County, and officials have said the second site under consideration is the former West Virginia University Institute of Technology campus, in Montgomery.
The House of Delegates passed HB 206 51-47 Wednesday.
Voting no were all Democrats, plus Roy Cooper, R-Summers, Mark Dean, R-Mingo, Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming, Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire, and Chris Toney, R-Raleigh.
Not voting were Delegates Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, and Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton.
Carmichael said “no Democrat in this legislative body on either side has voted for this bill that improves funding to our schools by massive amounts … because some local community might want to, if they decide it’s best for them, charter a school.”
Only three charter schools would be allowed under the bill until 2023, when three more would be allowed, and then three more would be allowed every three years after that. Students who move to these charter schools would carry much of their state per-pupil funding with them, which could reduce funding for other public schools.
Also Monday, Carmichael sent several other education bills the House passed last week to the Senate Education Committee.
Education bills normally go through that committee, but the Senate hasn’t been using any regular committees during the ongoing special legislative session on education.
Carmichael said the Senate still might pass the bills, but the chamber could also wait until the next regular session, which begins in January.
“We just didn’t want to take time this evening,” he said.
One of the bills sent to Senate Education was House Bill 158, which says the state Board of Education would be required to create a rule that holds students accountable for their scores on statewide standardized tests.
The bill leaves it up to the state school board to determine what consequences students would face.
After passing HB 206 and related funding bills, the Senate recessed the special session subject to Carmichael’s call for it to reconvene. The House is in the same position, with House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, currently having the power to call that chamber back.
Regarding the decision to not permanently end the Senate’s side of the session Monday, Carmichael said “there are some other bills that are still floating around that we may want to address in terms of education reform.”
He referenced the bills he sent to Senate Education. He said he needs to evaluate whether these other bills “have some merit.”
Regarding private school voucher bills that the House hasn’t yet passed, including the Senate’s “education savings account” bill (Senate Bill 1040), Carmichael said “theoretically [the House] could resurrect those bills and act on them. I mean, it’s not my understanding that that’s a posture that they want to be in.”