CHARLESTON, W.Va. — House Speaker Roger Hanshaw isn’t giving a lot of hints about what happens now with a broad-based education bill.
“With the final passage of the comprehensive education bill by the Senate, House leadership now has a starting point for our work on this bill,” Hanshaw stated Monday afternoon.
“As I said before, we will fully review this bill in a deliberate manner, and will work to build consensus on the best path forward with proposals to improve our state’s education system.
The Senate, after a little more than a week of debate, passed a bill that includes raises for educators as well as a number of other changes to West Virginia’s school system.
Gov. Jim Justice has said the pay raise bill should run on its own. He also has indicated he might veto it.
Teachers unions object to some items in the bill, dislike bundling everything together and disagree with how the bill was rolled out. Local unions are taking strike-authorization votes this week.
School systems like Kanawha and Monongalia have issued resolutions against the bill.
All that is a lot to unpack for Hanshaw and the House of Delegates.
Hanshaw, R-Clay, issued a measured statement late Monday afternoon.
“In the coming days, the House will take a serious, deliberate look at the bill that passed the Senate and we will begin consideration of these proposals in a manner that respects all who might be affected by it,” Hanshaw stated.
“It is my hope that our citizens will be patient and respect this process as we move forward with an open discussion on how to best improve our state’s education system for all involved.”
His statement made a couple of key points.
One was that the House intends to pass the pay raises.
“As we have said repeatedly, improving the compensation and benefits of our state’s teachers, service personnel and public employees so that they are competitive with neighboring states and the private sector is and continues to be an absolute top priority for House leadership this session,” he stated.
“The House remains completely committed to addressing pay and benefits for all state workers and school employees.”
The other big point is that the House does intend to complete some change to the state education system.
“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,” he stated.
“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.”
The Senate’s bill passed 18-16 with Republican senators Kenny Mann and Bill Hamilton voting with the 14 Democrats.
In remarks made on the Senate’s stairs after the bill’s passage, Senate President Mitch Carmichael said he hopes the House of Delegates will strongly consider the bill.
“The House speaker has absolutely indicated they’ll take up the bill,” Carmichael, R-Jackson, said in response to a question.
“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. Why would you vote against a bill that helps students, parents and teachers?”
Besides the pay raise, the bill 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. It would open enrollment for students to cross county lines.
It would allow counties to raise levy rates up to a set maximum, rather than relying on state formula.
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.
Governor Justice on Monday said the process should play out.
“It’s difficult for me to understand,” he said. “But I am very respectful for the fact that the Senate Republicans believe we should make improvements in education, and they think that’s what they’re trying to move toward. I am one that believes, as I think the education community believes, that there’s no question we can do better.”
Justice continued, “The net of the whole thing is, I think it will be OK. At the end of the day this has got to go to the House.”
It’s not yet clear how soon the House of Delegates will act, what path the bill will take or what changes may occur.
House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick told Ogden Newspapers this past weekend that it was too soon to say.
“Mostly we’ve been waiting to see what final version of the bill comes from the Senate before we start working on it,” said Hamrick, R-Harrison.
“There’s probably some small changes that will be needed to clarify the bill. Then we have to get a feel from House members, what’s likely to pass out of the House, and what has the support to pass and make whatever necessary amendments there are.”
Hanshaw’s statement said the outcome is important to him.
“As a graduate of our state’s public school system, I am deeply invested in this and absolutely committed to making our state’s education system the best it can possibly be for all involved,” Hanshaw said.
“I’ve seen firsthand the struggles our teachers face, and I know every parent’s desire for their child to receive a quality education. These thoughts are at the forefront of my mind as we move forward in this process.”