Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, released a statement Monday saying his unorthodox approach to passing a massive, confusing bill on education reform by having it skip the Senate Finance Committee is an effort toward transparency.
That’s not the truth, and Carmichael knows it.
Before the legislative session began, Carmichael removed Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, replacing him with Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson. This was a calculated move to get legislation that approves charter schools, public money for homeschooling and diminishing the power of the public teachers’ unions through the Education Committee. When it was slated to go to the Senate Finance Committee, where Mann was relocated, Carmichael realized he had a problem.
“An issue of this magnitude should not have input from only members of the Education and Finance committees. It should have the input of all members of the Senate as we work toward our shared goal of improving student achievement across the board, at all grade levels, in all areas of the state,” Carmichael said.
Translated, it means the bill won’t die in committee and Carmichael can afford a couple of defections in a vote before the full Senate.
There seem to be good and bad elements attached to the bill, but rushing it through when so many don’t fully understand what’s in it and what it will do hardly seems transparent. Stitching together a bill of such sweeping scale, while also constructing it so that, if one part of the legislation is unpopular, it all goes down — including a promised raise for teachers and school service personnel — is intentionally devious.
Late last year, around the time of the general election, Carmichael and other Republican leaders in West Virginia seemed to be trying to rewrite the narrative of how teachers were able to get a raise in 2018 — ignoring the nine-day, statewide strike — while also promising another raise in the coming legislative session. Carmichael and others were also tossing the word “socialism” around fairly liberally, applying it to anything that went against the state GOP.
Carmichael doesn’t like organized labor, and the state’s two teacher unions are arguably the most powerful workers’ lobbying groups in West Virginia. It sure seems like he sees an opportunity to weaken those unions, a form of socialism to him, perhaps, through this reform bill.
Even if that isn’t his motivation, Carmichael needs to be honest with the people of West Virginia. This rare move to bypass a committee isn’t about transparency at all, it’s about removing roadblocks to getting the legislation through. If it were a bill with broad support that was easily understood and didn’t come with so many conditions, there would be no problem with following the normal course of action.
The situation is bad enough that Gov. Jim Justice felt the need to have a news conference Tuesday afternoon to let the media know the bill doesn’t have his support. He said he’d “respect the process,” but would rather do teacher and school service personnel pay raises separately, along with many other aspects of the bill. He further said he didn’t support legislation to form charter schools.
Gov. Justice is right. If Carmichael wants the things that are in this bill, they need to be done separately and with the proper amount of scrutiny. When it comes to the state’s education system, end runs and smoke bombs aren’t in anyone’s best interest.