CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s big education bill continues to be the subject of big debate.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael was set to be the first guest on today’s MetroNews “Talkline.” Watch that here.

At 10:30, leaders of three education unions gathered to address their own steps forward in dealing with the bill.

And then at 11, the Senate was set for a floor session. The bill will be on second reading, amendment stage, so expect some vigorous discussion.

We’ll bring you updates here.

5:55 p.m. A miracle has happened, and there are no more amendments to be considered. Senator Carmichael: “Are there more amendments?” Senate Clerk: “Noooo, sir.” Laughter happens.

The Senate has adjourned.

The bill will be up for passage on Monday.

5:24 p.m. By my count, we’ve dealt one way or another with 14 amendments. But, guess what! I count 34 now in the system.

“Let’s get this bill to third reading and let’s pass it on Monday,” said Senator Charles Trump, R-Morgan, a few minutes ago.

5:01 p.m. Democrats are now offering an amendment to remove everything in the Big Education Bill but the pay raise.

Senator John Unger, D-Berkeley, says, “The provision takes the Governor’s bill and puts it into this bill. This is going to deliver the promise.”

Senator Charles Trump, R-Morgan, asks Unger about the wisdom of striking some aspects of the bill he might like.

“All these other measures should be decided individually in other bills,” Unger says.

This one was knocked down, 15-18-1. Senator Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, was absent.

4:48 p.m. We’re back and have already flown through several amendments.

Each of these was adopted:

The passage of Smith’s amendment averted a potential political crisis. He had earlier offered an amendment to pull out an entire section giving local school boards more control over raising levy rates. Much of the rest of the Republican caucus supported that provision.

Smith pulled that amendment and submitted another one that keeps the levy rate provision but requires a vote of citizens.

The one that Democrats offered was a version of what Smith offered earlier. He voted against it, and it failed 16-18.

4:45 p.m. This big bill would go next to the House of Delegates

3:59 p.m. The Senate is recessing for 15 minutes.

Senator Robert Plymale, a veteran of this body, rises and asks, “Is that real 15 minutes, or Senate 15 minutes?”

3:26 p.m. 

Bill Ihlenfeld

Now up is a Democratic-sponsored amendment to eliminate all the Education Savings Accounts section.

Senator Bill Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, is describing the amendment. Educational Savings Accounts would allow a transfer of money for some students leaving public schools for private education.

There’s a limit on how many students would be eligible — 2,500. And the annual amount of money would be $3,200. The program would be overseen by the state Treasurer, and the money would go for educational expenses.

Ihlenfeld, a former federal prosecutor, says “I see a tremendous opportunity for fraud.”

Senator Rucker defends the ESA provision, citing this: “10) The treasurer shall have the authority to conduct or contract for the auditing of individual ESAs, and shall, at a minimum, conduct random audits of ESAs on an annual basis.”

Rucker: “I will tell you, with the possibility of there being fraud and abuse, it is possible. It is possible with a lot of things we do in this state.”

Senator Mike Romano, D-Harrison, rises and says over time millions of dollars will be diverted from public schools toward private schools.

“We’ll be sending taxpayer money down the drain.”

Guess what! 16-18. The amendment fails.

3:19 p.m. Debate over charter schools draws to a conclusion.

Patricia Rucker

Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, rises for a final statement against the proposal to eliminate charter schools language from the bill. She cites an article in American Progress called “The Progressive Case for Charter Schools.”

Rucker says, “It is an option that we need to be open to in the state of West Virginia.”

Senator Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, then rises and makes a final pitch for the amendment to pull the charter schools provisions.

The amendment to remove the charter schools provisions fails 16-18.

2:54 p.m. Debate continues over charter schools.

Roman Prezioso

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, asks Senate Education Chairwoman Rucker about who was consulted while developing this bill.

“Was the governor ever consulted?” Prezioso asks.

“Well, no,” Rucker responds.

Prezioso wraps up by saying, “Why don’t we get the governor to convene a blue ribbon commission, go around the state, come back next year with a bill we can agree on?”

He adds, “I think we need to step back and take a look at this.”

Craig Blair

Senate Finance Chairman Blair, R-Berkeley, rises to oppose the amendment and to support the bill. “How can anyone be against this? I’m very confused,” he says.

Blair says if part of the bill is struck down, then there’s no worry about the nonseverability clause because the Legislature could reconvene to address whatever legal problems arise.

Senator Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, rose and said charter schools aren’t particularly out of the ordinary.

“These exist in 44 states and the District of Columbia.” “This isn’t some crazy idea we all thought of in a room one night. This is something that’s been in existence for decades.”

1:51 p.m. The next proposed amendment by Democrats strikes the charter schools section. 

West Virginia Legislature

Robert Plymale

Senator Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, is explaining the amendment. He’s a former Senate Education chairman.

“I have received numerous calls and emails on this bill. I have received one in favor of it,” Plymale says. “This needs to be done, if it’s done in a very collaborative model, not to be blown through in about three or four weeks of the session.”

Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, says she understands concerns but she is usually able to assuage them once she has been able to have a discussion.

“There is a lot in the charter schools component of this bill that we put thoughtful consideration into.” She adds, “We crafted a law that provides for protection, for accountability, for restrictions.”

Doug Facemire

Senator Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, is asking Senator Rucker about the goals of charter schools. Describing how many charters there might be, Rucker says, “I don’t think there will be a ton,” adding that WV is a small state.

Senator Facemire asks why charter schools are being considered if they can’t help all students.

Rucker responds, “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.”

She again predicts there wouldn’t be a lot of charter schools but says the concept is worth trying.

“I truly believe this is a great mechanism for those who want to try it. I don’t think there’s going to be a plethora. But I do believe there will be one or two.”

Facemire concludes, “If this is a good thing to do, why would we not give it to every student in the state?”

1:32 p.m. Democrats are proposing their amendment to remove the nonseverability clause. Senator Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha: “I think it’s meanspirted to have this in the bill.”

Senator Charles Trump, R-Morgan, defends the clause: “I don’t think it’s meanspirited. It’s certainly not intended to be.”

Trump goes on to say, “This nonseverability clause is designed to be a shield against the judiciary picking off bits and pieces.” He later describes “a shield against activist judicial intervention.”

Palumbo: “As I would expect, the Senator from Morgan gave a very polished defense of an unconscionable provision of this bill.”

That was a 16-18 vote, so the amendment fails.

1:23 p.m. We’re back up and running in the Senate. The lunch break resulted in some significant growth in the number of amendments to be considered for the education bill.

There are now 21.

Discussion starts with an amendment proposed by Senator Charles Trump, regarding the makeup of the commission that would oversee charter schools. His language would remove people appointed by the legislative leadership from the commission makeup because, basically, the legislative branch can’t appoint officers of the executive branch.

12:34 p.m. Taking a break until 1 p.m.

12:13 p.m. The Senate hasn’t yet started talking about Bill 451. But a glance at the 14 amendments being offered today shows some interesting ones.

Obviously don’t expect all of these (any of these?) to pass. But watch the drama.

 

11:38 a.m. The Senate floor session has started. 

There are now 14 amendments lined up for the big education bill.

11 a.m. Leaders of three West Virginia education unions announced there would be local votes in the coming week that could authorize walkouts over the omnibus education bill.

They were careful to say that does not necessarily mean there will be a teacher strike — just that walkouts would be authorized if the situation becomes necessary.

The language described called for local votes “to call 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.

File Photo

Dale Lee

“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.”

Lee again called for the education bill to be broken into parts that would be considered individually.

“Let’s talk about those individually. Let’s work on the individual,” Lee said.

Lee, speaking at the press conference today, said he expects the Senate will pass the bill.

“We fully expect it to pass the Senate. We have started talks with leadership the House to look at the bill and really talk about education in units,” he said.

“We expect to work with the House and work on something that makes sense and that has West Virginia having influence on the bill instead of outside interests.”

10:33 a.m. Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, was discussed Democratic strategy on amendments.

10:14 a.m.

10:11 a.m. Senate President Mitch Carmichael, speaking on “Talkline,” acknowledges several amendments ahead. . “We have some amendments ourselves,” he says of majority Republicans.

“I understand there are amendments from the minority that strips everything out but a pay raise.”

Carmichael on union leaders: “I understand they’re having a press conference today to say what they’re going to do with this bill. That should be offensive to people.”

8:15 a.m. Weigh in on whether you would oppose or support a teacher strike:

8 a.m. Hoppy Kercheval’s commentary focuses on the position of the West Virginia Board of Education.

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