West Virginians of all political persuasions were taken aback when the West Virginia Senate conceived and gave birth to an atrocious bouncing baby education bill that almost nobody thought was cute.
Even the Republican delegate for most of Hampshire County went on record plainly stating that the bill was bad for students.
Nobody really understood how they came up with a 133-page bill so quickly in the legislative session. It was introduced less than three weeks after the session began. In a highly unusual move, the customary process by which such a bill would go to the Finance Committee as referenced was circumvented using a procedural move not seen since 1974 when it appeared the bill faced serious opposition in that committee. It was brought to the floor of the Senate for a vote a week after it was introduced and passed by two votes.
Typically, when a major change is being contemplated to something as important as a state’s education system, one would expect to see great deliberation. One would expect to see feedback solicited from the West Virginia Department of Education; educators, including the teacher unions; school administrators; local school boards; parent organizations and the general public. Mysteriously, none of that happened.
I recall about a week before the bill was introduced, a hand-wringing “think of the children” open letter from Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, was printed in my local paper. The Republican senator pleaded for something to be done about the state’s broken education system. Who knew that he and his fellow GOP senators already had a massive bill in hand to miraculously fix it?
I use an ad-blocker online but there is a site I frequent that requires the user to turn that off when using its services. We all know that the internet knows us better than we know ourselves — the better to target ads in our direction. I was surprised, just a day after the bill was introduced, to see a pair of ads thanking Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, for supporting the bill, with a tagline that read “the children of West Virginia have suffered enough.”
I didn’t think to screenshot that one, but I did catch one later that thanked the wrong state senator but was basically the same. It was paid for by the Coalition for a Stronger West Virginia.
A stronger West Virginia sounds like something we all could support, doesn’t it? I did a quick Google search and found that this coalition was supported entirely by the coal industry. Think of the children, indeed.
It soon came out that the bill was a virtual copy-and-paste job from legislative models created by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative corporate-sponsored bill writing organization so extreme that numerous companies publicly disavowed it in 2016. In 2015, 172 education measures, modeled directly off of ALECs prefab legislation, were introduced in 42 states. ALEC’s long-term goal is the complete privatization of all public schools.
I guess that explains the immaculate conception of Senate Bill 451 — which is totally not related to the novel featuring the same number in its title and which foretold a future in which books were outlawed. However, it really isn’t as far a bridge from weakening the educational system to banning all repositories of knowledge as you might think.
My point here is not to attack Republicans but simply to break this down into a digestible format for readers who do not obsessively follow the machinations of the statehouse. Few people do that, so this entire episode may seem like a blip on the radar that was in the news a lot for a month or so, led to another teachers strike and was thankfully killed by the House, which saw many changes it had made to the bill reversed, leading to the strike. It was clear that there was an agenda at work, and the agenda really had little to do with the children of West Virginia.