By Brad McElhinny, WV MetroNews
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senate President Mitch Carmichael confirmed today’s rollout of one big education bill including promised pay raises for teachers, increased flexibility to open charter schools and a requirement for teachers to sign off annually on union dues.
It also would include “differential pay,” allowing for higher wages for teaching fields considered crucial but hard to fill. And it allows teachers’ personal days to be banked for credit toward retirement.
In other words, there’s a lot for teachers, senators and the public to digest.
Carmichael spoke with MetroNews in the halls of the Capitol. The Senate president was set as a guest on MetroNews’ “Talkline” today at 10:15 a.m.
“Today we’ll begin discussing the individual components of it and make sure everyone is informed officially as to what will be in the bill,” he said. “It can continue to evolve and so forth.”
Republican senators gathered for a closed-door caucus on Wednesday evening, presumably to discuss when and how to go ahead with the education bill.
Discussion is likely to begin in a Senate Education Committee at 2 p.m. today. The agenda for that meeting was marked as “TBA” on Wednesday evening.
Democratic senators were being briefed on the contents of the bill this morning, with some walking around with thick copies.
“We’re going to take a big swing at this and know that reaching for the stars is the right thing for our kids,” Carmichael said.
“The current education in West Virginia is in need of reform,” Carmichael said. “Our students have not performed in the current education environment. Frankly, they’re at the bottom of the national rankings.
“But it’s not the fault of our teachers. It’s not the fault of our students or our parents. It’s the system that has failed them. So we’re going to invest in teachers and education in general. Furthermore, we’re going to provide flexibility and options for parents.”
The ‘omnibus bill,’ as it’s being called has already received pushback from education associations, including the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, both of which were involved in a statewide walkout last year.
Gov. Jim Justice promised a pay raise for teachers and other public employees way back on Oct. 2, with Republican lawmakers standing behind him.
Right as the legislative session began, Justice was asked for his opinion on charter schools.
“I’m not for that,” the governor said.
On Monday, lawmakers had letters placed on their desks by a range of education associations. Among the messages was that the associations of teachers, principals and service personnel oppose the bundling approach to an education bill.
“Education employees, as well as the public, deserve an open and transparent path to proposals becoming law,” the associations wrote.
“We believe unrelated items should be voted on separately and they should pass or fail based on their own merits. We also believe coupling unrelated items into a single bill violates the ‘single object’ provision of the constitution, thereby effectively killing the bill.”
Today, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said he had not yet been fully briefed on the contents of the bill.
“A couple of days ago, he said he wanted to talk to us about it,” Lee said of Carmichael. “They were supposed to get back to us on get back to us on when we were coming in to talk about it, and I haven’t heard anything back. So, no, I haven’t seen it.”
Lee reiterated that education associations are opposed to bundling the various educational components in one bill. “This omnibus bill is not the route to go. Things need to stand on their own merit.”
Carmichael advocated in favor of a comprehensive approach.
“Any time you’re addressing a problem, you bring forth all the solutions that are inherent in fixing that problem, rather than going piecemeal, individual, fixing little items here that maybe on the individual level doesn’t fix the whole problem.
“We want a comprehensive education reform package that fixes the issue and provides additional enhanced compensation for our teachers.”
He acknowledged, “There’s going to be things in this bill that people like, and there will be things that are reform to the system that a particular interest group may not like.”