The attention now turns to the House of Delegates to begin work on the comprehensive and controversial education reform bill. The Senate passed out SB 451 18-16 with two Republican Senators (Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur and Kenny Mann, R-Monroe) joining with Democrats to oppose the bill.
Republicans hold a 59-41 advantage in the House, but that does not guarantee the bill will pass, as is. In fact, it is unlikely the bill could clear the House Education Committee as it stands now.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail’s Jake Zuckerman Tuesday quoted six Republican members of House Ed that are either opposed to, or have serious reservations about, the bill. Republicans hold a 15-10 advantage in the committee, so they don’t have many votes to lose.
The paper quoted Delegate Roy Cooper (R-Summers) as saying, “I can’t go along with (the bill) as long as its got charter schools and education savings accounts, because my people would cook my goose.”
Even committee vice-chair, Delegate Mark Dean (R-Mingo) is reluctant to get behind the bill as it is written now, which is unusual because Dean is in a leadership position. The Gazette-Mail said Dean, who is a school principal, opposes the bill because of the inclusion of education savings accounts, the requirement that teacher and service worker union members recommit annually to have dues taken from their paychecks, and changes in school levies.
One veteran legislative head counter said there is no way the bill could pass House Education as it is currently written.
So, what happens now? House Speaker Roger Hanshaw has kept his cards close, promising the House will “fully review this bill in a deliberate manner,” and he has left the door open to compromise. “We will begin consideration of these proposals in a manner that respects all who might be affected by it.”
As of today—and like any major piece of legislation the dynamic can shift daily or even hourly—it appears Republicans will have to give ground on the more controversial provisions of the bill. Items that will likely be on the negotiating table include, but are not limited to, charter schools, education savings accounts, paycheck protection and the clause that says if any portion of the bill is struck down by the courts then the entire bill/law is void.
It will take compromises to get the bill through the House, but then the question is will the Senate, which held the line on nearly all of the controversial parts of the bill, give ground?
There will be push back from interest groups, such as the Business and Industry Council and the Americans for Prosperity West Virginia, that support the Senate version.
Emotions are running high. The teacher and service worker unions are polling their members to see if they would authorize a strike “should circumstances surrounding the Omnibus Education Bill merit such a work stoppage.”
Frankly, it becomes increasingly difficult to reach agreement as tensions increase on all sides. We saw what happened last year. Hanshaw, who is in his first full term as speaker, is going to have his negotiating skills tested as he now tries to find a way forward on the bill.