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Education bill faces perilous trajectory in House

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By Jake Zuckerman, Charleston Gazette-Mail

After a slog through the West Virginia Senate, a sweeping education reform package is likely to face stiff, if not fatal, resistance in the House of Delegates.

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said the entire 41-person caucus opposes the bill in its current form. Likewise, seven Republicans (six on the House Education Committee) stated their opposition to the bill — in part or in totality — after the Senate passed it Monday.

This comes on top of Republican Gov. Jim Justice’s stated intent to veto the billin its current form.

 

In particular, charter schoolseducation savings accounts, allowing county boards of education to raise levy rates with the voters’ approval and paycheck protection provisions are proving unfavorable among many Republicans.

“I can’t go along with [the bill] as long as its got charter schools and education savings accounts, because my people would cook my goose,” said Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, who sits on the Education Committee.

Cooper, who said he taught in public schools for 20 years, also voiced opposition to paycheck protection and the levy rate provisions, as well.

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, has his problems with the bill, too. He said he’s open to charter schools, as long as they come at the request of a county board of education and are run through the same. The bill passed by the Senate allows several kinds of entities to authorize the charters.

He also said he could probably only support ESA provisions if they only applied to children of active-duty military families, children with special needs or children in foster homes.

Delegate Chris Toney, R-Raleigh, is a school bus driver and member of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association. He said he’s against the charter school provisions, the ESAs and paycheck protection.

“I’d like to actually break up the bill so we can do the pieces individually,” he said.

The vice chairman of the House Education Committee, Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, who is a school principal, said he’s against the bill. Specifically, he cited the ESAs, paycheck protection and the levy sections.

“I have a lot of concerns with education savings accounts,” he said. “Being from a rural part of the state kind of makes a difference. Additional services that aren’t offered by the school system are very few and far between in the rural parts of the state.”

Another Education Committee member, Delegate Patrick Martin, R-Lewis, voiced more limited concerns, stating that he would like to narrow the charter school and ESA provisions, and remove the levy and paycheck protection sections outright. However, he declined to take a position on the bill at large.

Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, another Education Committee member, said he opposes the bill as is, as did Delegate Zack Maynard, R-Lincoln.

Of the 25 members of the House Education Committee, 15 are Republicans, meaning they can lose only three votes, assuming the Democrats stick together. Thus, as it stands, the Senate bill faces long odds of emerging from the House Education Committee, which is likely to review the bill.

House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, offered much more support for the bill than some of the other committee members.

“As long as the implementation is done properly, I think it’s something that can give parents a lot more flexibility in the education of their children,” he said of ESAs. He made similar comments about public charter schools and the necessity of good administration in their efficacy.

However, he said some members of the caucus have raised their eyebrows about allowing county boards to raise the levy rates.

“That is one of the parts of the bill that has the most questions within our caucus,” he said.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, declined an interview request Monday morning. In a statement released Monday evening, he said the public employee pay raise is a priority for the House. He said the House will look over the bill “in a manner that respects all who might be affected by it.”

Notably, he did not mention any of the specific policies within the bill beyond the teacher pay raises.

“It’s important to remember: We are not satisfied with the status quo. Despite the amount of taxpayer money we spend on education, our current system remains ranked near the bottom compared to other states,” Hanshaw said.

“We believe this can be changed by inspiring innovation in our education system, increasing local control over schools, providing teachers more resources to use in their classrooms, giving teachers more time to teach instead of complying with testing or administrative requirements, improving technology in our classrooms, providing parents with more choices in their child’s education, and changing the one-size-fits-all approach to education that is too often mandated from Charleston.”

On the other side of the Capitol, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, shared no concerns about the fate of the bill in the House.

“Yes, the House Speaker has absolutely indicated he’s going to take this bill up and, so, in terms of passage of the bill, what are the prospects, I think they’re great, because it’s the right thing to do and it helps the people of West Virginia,” he said. “Why would you vote against a bill that helps students, parents and teachers?”