The West Virginia House of Delegates finally adjourned Tuesday its special legislative session on education, which Republican Gov. Jim Justice started and eventually expanded to include non-education-related bills.
Justice began the session, which gave lawmakers more time to pass laws than they usually get per year, in March. The Republican House speaker and Senate president had reconvened and recessed it a few times since without officially ending it.
The House’s “sine die” adjournment means the death of pending private school voucher bills, at least until the next regular session in January.
The bills, which would have provided parents money to send their kids to religious and private schools, were sitting in the House, awaiting passage, when it ended its work Tuesday. The governor could call another special session before January, but he’s expressed opposition to “education savings accounts” voucher bills. The other voucher bill was a program that would’ve provided companies and individuals tax exemptions to fund private school scholarships.
“We just didn’t try to push them very hard for a variety of reasons,” House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said of the voucher bills Tuesday. “I think probably the votes were not there, but tax credit bills take a lot of time to get right. So, I don’t ... I wouldn’t rule that bill out, I wouldn’t rule that bill out coming back.”
He said, “The public was looking for us to get on with other business, so we may revisit that bill when we get back to regular session. But it wouldn’t have been effective until such time as we could have been back anyway, so it just seemed like the right thing to do.”
The wording Justice put in his official special session call gave lawmakers free rein to decide which education changes they wanted to pursue and free rein on when to actually debate and pass these changes. Lawmakers, saying they were taking time to gather public input, waited until the summer, when schools were out, to pass an omnibus education bill that public school worker unions opposed.
During the regular session, the House killed an earlier version of the omnibus, which had included private school vouchers. That was on the first day of a statewide public school workers strike. Vouchers weren’t in the version of the omnibus (House Bill 206) that lawmakers ultimately passed this summer. Republican House and Senate leaders ran the voucher bills separately, and they failed. The omnibus did legalize the state’s first charter schools, atop increasing public school funding and doing many other things.
The state Senate didn’t end its side of the special session on Tuesday.
Instead, it again recessed until whenever Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, decides to reconvene it. But, now, senators can only pass bills the House already passed over to them, and they can’t amend these bills now. Those bills are more minor education bills, though one would say the state Board of Education would be required to somehow hold students accountable for their standardized test scores.
The Senate must also decide whether or not to confirm many of the appointments that the governor makes to various boards. The House doesn’t have this responsibility.