CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The search for consensus on a big education bill is starting in West Virginia’s House of Delegates.
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw pledged to consider the bill in both the House Education and Finance committees. He indicated it would also be considered as a single bill, but acknowledged it’s likely to change through the legislative process.
“It’s not to be taken lightly. It’s not to be rushed. If there’s ever an area to be deliberate and thoughtful, it’s this,” Hanshaw said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
House Education may begin to consider the bill in short order.
“I think when you see the agenda posted for tomorrow you’ll find that bill on there,” said Delegate Mark Dean, the vice chairman of the House Education Committee.
House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick said what’s introduced there won’t be the exact same bill that passed the Senate on Monday.
“We’ll have a strike-and-insert out there as soon as we can for everybody to review before the committee.”
Hamrick added, “There will be some changes when the bill is introduced to committee, just based on the thoughts and feelings of members of the House.”
Debate broke out in the House of Delegates almost the very second it was introduced today.
The House received an official message from the state Senate that the bill had passed. At that moment, Delegate Isaac Sponaugle jumped up and made a motion to table the bill.
“At the end of the day, this bill is a pig,” said Sponaugle, D-Pendleton. “I don’t care how much lipstick you put on it, you won’t make it any prettier.”
Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, countered with a motion to table Sponaugle’s motion. She said the bill needs to be considered in committee. Her motion passed, 52-44 with four delegates absent.
The discussion didn’t end there, though. At the end of today’s floor session, delegate after delegate rose to speak for or against the bill.
Delegate Dean, who is also principal of Gilbert PreK-8, acknowledged that finding consensus will be challenging.
He said delegates like increased access to mental health services, pay raises for educators and a funding base of 1,400 students for all counties.
There’s disagreement, he said, on charter schools, educational savings accounts and removing seniority as the top factor in job retention.
“Probably right now there’s more areas we agree on than disagree on,” said Dean, R-Mingo. “But those areas we disagree are pretty big areas.”
There’s a lot more to chew on.
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.
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.
Hamrick, the Education Committee chairman, made a floor speech asking delegates and the public to be patient as the bill is considered.
“Today I just ask you to trust me and the other members of the Legislature, to keep the good parts of this bill and maybe remove the parts that give some of us heartburn,” said Hamrick, R-Harrison.
Hamrick said the bill under consideration in the Education Committee will be different from what passed the Senate. “There will be some changes when the bill is introduced to committee, just based on the thoughts and feelings of members of the House.”
But Hamrick did not elaborate much on how extensive those changes might be.
He said some of the language on charter schools and educational savings accounts may be strengthened to assuage concerns. “I don’t really have any misconceptions that’s going to change a lot of minds, but if the bill’s better and stronger that can only help,” he said.
Delegate after delegate weighed in on the bill during speeches on the House floor today.
Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, said he has gotten hundreds of emails from educators asking him to vote no. But Wilson said he has gone beyond that to seek out parents.
“As the educators have no faith in this body, the parents in this state have no faith in the public education system in this state,” Wilson said.
Delegate Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley, said declining enrollment in the school system is a sign: “Parents are speaking, and they’re speaking with their feet.”
“We need to make a change,” Bibby said. “We can’t just put our heads in the sand, give a pay raise and then go home and think everything’s going to be hunky dory.”
Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, was critical of how the bill had passed through the Senate.
“I have never been more happy in not being a state senator than I have in this last week,” he said.
The bill was first discussed in Senate Education on Jan. 24, then passed out of that committee after five hours of discussion the next day.
It was referenced to the Senate Finance Committee, where two Republican members indicated they would vote against it.
Instead, the Senate took the bill to a rare Committee of the Whole, which was the full Senate acting as a committee. After days of debate, the bill wound up passing out of the Senate, 18-16.
“I hope and pray the House of Delegates has much more wisdom and much more compassion than the Senate,” Caputo said.
“I hope and pray they look at the House and say ‘I’m thankful you took the time to do things the way they’re supposed to be done.'”
Speaking with reporters prior to the floor session, House Minority Leader Tim Miley said the bill should be divided into different policy areas.
“I don’t particularly care for the fact that you have so much in one bill,” Miley said. “If they were as important as everyone claims each of the parts to be, they should be addressed separately and passed on the merits of each idea in the bill.”
On Talkline, Speaker Hanshaw said the size and scope of the bill makes him believe changing some aspects is inevitable.
“It would be extraordinary for a bill of this size and this complex to not have amendments from both parties,” he said.
Charter schools, for example, may be subject to further defining. “That term means something very different depending on who is using it,” he said.
And the section allowing local authorities to raise school levies may receive closer scrutiny. “I would be surprised if we don’t take a serious dive into that school funding formula issue,” Hanshaw said.
He reiterated his intent to be deliberative.
“I think there are lots of parts of the bill that are open for change and open for discussion.”
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) February 5, 2019