By: Ryan Quinn, Charleston Gazette-Mail
Patricia Rucker, a home-school and private-school advocate and vaccine requirement opponent, will be the state Senate Education Committee’s chairwoman, replacing the teachers union-backed Kenny Mann, Senate President Mitch Carmichael announced Tuesday.
The Legislature’s other education body will also see new leadership when the next session starts Jan. 9. Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said he’ll no longer be leading the House Education Committee following House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, naming him the majority whip.
Hanshaw hasn’t yet named his replacement.
In an interview Tuesday, Carmichael said his education priorities for the session are, foremost, passing free community college tuition and another 5 percent raise for school workers.
Carmichael calls the tuition idea “last-dollar-in” instead of free because the state would pay for whatever remaining costs other sources don’t cover, plus last session’s version of the bill, which unanimously passed the Senate but not the House, came with major requirements like drug testing.
The Senate president also said he plans to renew the push to legalize charter schools in West Virginia, perhaps specialty ones focusing on science and math, and a way to address certified teacher shortages, possibly including paying math teachers more than other teachers or forgiving tuition for someone who pursues a math education degree and teaches in West Virginia for some time.
“[Education] challenges will take a fresh set of eyes and a leader who understands that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to education,” Carmichael said in a Tuesday news release. “Patricia is a tireless advocate for children and for families, and she understands that it will take bold reforms and landmark changes to truly make a difference in West Virginia’s educational landscape.”
“West Virginia public schools are not where we want them to be,” Rucker, R-Jefferson, said in the release. “We are putting a lot of money in but not getting the results our citizens deserve. Let me be clear: This is not the fault of our teachers. The system has let them down, and it has let down the parents and the students.”
Rucker continued on the say “we need to reform the system so that the money gets to the classroom and isn’t hung up on administration, and we need to bring all of the stakeholders together to work for the benefit of all West Virginia children.”
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association union, previously said some of Rucker’s “educational views have been extremist and in many ways anti-public education.”
Rucker previously said “one does not become an enemy of public education just because someone,” supports alternatives.
In this year’s session, Rucker was the lead sponsor of a failed bill to create “education savings accounts,” which provide public money for students to get tutoring and attend private schools and religious schools.
The West Virginia Business and Industry Council and an Ogden Newspapers reporter both tweeted that Carmichael mentioned education savings accounts at a BIC event Tuesday. While Carmichael told the Gazette-Mail Tuesday that he wants to learn more about them, he said “that’s not something that’s necessarily high on my priority list.”
Rucker was also the lead sponsor of successful legislation that eliminated the requirement that home-schooled students earn a high school equivalency degree to be eligible for the state’s Promise Scholarship.
In 2017, she was the lead sponsor of a failed bill (SB 524) that would’ve repealed the state’s Common Core K-12 math and English standards. It would’ve required the state to implement, by July 1 of that year, other standards from California and Massachusetts.
West Virginia’s standards remain largely the same as the Common Core national standards blueprint, although officials are reluctant to call them Common Core.
Rucker has also backed several pieces of unsuccessful legislation to allow for more exemptions from vaccine requirements, including requirements for schoolchildren, and to allow parents or guardians to refuse the administering of erythromycin eye drops to their newborns.
She previously said she vaccinated her children but “that doesn’t mean I have the right to dictate to everyone else.”
She said she taught social studies for two years in Maryland’s Montgomery County Public Schools and previously worked as a secretary in the school system’s deputy superintendent’s office.
Tuesday’s release said Rucker, a graduate of Washington, D.C.’s Trinity College, was born in Venezuela, immigrated to the U.S. with her family as a child and became a U.S. citizen in 2004.
She said she’s homeschooled her five children, two of whom are now in college.