CHARLESTON, W.Va. – While union leaders announced school employees around the state will take strike-authorization votes, the state Senate debated five hours on amendments to a contentious, broad-based education bill.
The votes of local union shops will be during the next week. The big education bill will be on a passage vote in the Senate on Monday before moving along to the House of Delegates. Gov. Jim Justice has indicated he will veto the bill if it remains as-is.
“Let’s get this bill to third reading and let’s pass it on Monday,” said Senator Charles Trump, R-Morgan.
Union leaders said the upcoming local votes were “to call for a statewide work action should circumstances surrounding the omnibus education bill merit such a work action.”
“It’s not saying there will be any type of action immediately. It’s authorizing the action if the situation is necessary,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association.
Lee, speaking on MetroNews’ “Talkline” declined to elaborate on specific conditions that would lead to a walkout.
“That would be discussions we would continue to have with the three organizations and more importantly with the educators across the state of West Virginia,” he said.
The union leaders again called for individual components of the education bill to be considered as separate bills.
“Let’s talk about those individually. Let’s work on the individual,” Lee said.
The bill includes a long-promised payraise for educators.
It also opens the way for charter schools and educational savings accounts that would set aside public dollars for private schooling for a certain number of participants.
The bill would also let teachers bank personal days for retirement credit. It would give counties greater latitude in paying some teachers more for in-demand expertise.
The bill would require teachers to sign off annually on union dues. It stipulates that if there’s a work stoppage that closes schools, those involved would not be paid.
It’s all tied together with a non-severability clause, saying that if any part of the bill is struck down then it would all be void.
The many amendments that were offered Friday altered or took aim at many of those provisions.
Some attempted to strip out the nonseverability clause, the charter schools provisions and the educational savings accounts. Another would have eliminated everything except for the payraises.
Each of those amendments failed 16-18. On each, the 14 Democrats were joined by two Republicans, senators Kenny Mann and Bill Hamilton.
The few amendments that passed were offered by Republicans and, generally, tinkered with some of the provisions in the bill.
Democrats who proposed removing the nonseverability clause argued it was unwieldy and impractical to have all elements of the bill dependent on the others holding up in the court system.
“I think it’s mean-spirited to have this in the bill,” said Senator Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha.
Senator defended the clause: “I don’t think it’s meanspirited. It’s certainly not intended to be.”
Trump said, “This nonseverability clause is designed to be a shield against the judiciary picking off bits and pieces.”
Palumbo responded, “As I would expect, the Senator from Morgan gave a very polished defense of an unconscionable provision of this bill.”
Debate of more than an hour erupted over an amendment that would have removed all of the charter schools provisions.
Senator Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, asked about the goals of charter schools. He asked how many there might be.
“I don’t think there will be a ton,” said Senator Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, adding that West Virginia is a small state.
Facemire asked why charter schools are being considered if they can’t help all students.
“If we can help 1 percent of the students; if we can help 30 students down the road, it is absolutely worth it to help those students,” Rucker responded.
She again predicted there wouldn’t be a lot of charter schools but said the concept is worth trying.
“I truly believe this is a great mechanism for those who want to try it,” she said. “I don’t think there’s going to be a plethora. But I do believe there will be one or two.”
Facemire concluded, “If this is a good thing to do, why would we not give it to every student in the state?”