CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two controversial parts of a big education bill were removed as the House Education Committee took up the legislation for the first time.

Committee members heard a summary of a strike-and-insert amendment that would make some significant changes.

A non-severability clause was no longer in the bill. The clause means the entire bill would be struck down if any portion of it is successfully challenged in court.

Nor was a ‘paycheck protection’ provision that would require education union members to sign off on their dues annually.

The committee substitute bill that was explained by staff counsel on Wednesday also made several other significant changes from the way the bill was passed out of the state Senate.

Charter schools were capped at six.

The bill no longer allows for virtual charter schools.

Education savings accounts, which are vouchers for students moving from public school to a private education, would be limited to special needs students.

A provision in the Senate bill that would have withheld wages during a work stoppage was changed to allow for those wages to be repaid once school days are made up.

House Education Committee Chairman Danny Hamrick told committee members this is just a starting point, and he believes the bill will change as it goes through the legislative process.

The Education Committee started learning about the bill Wednesday morning and then reconvened to ask questions of staff counsel in the afternoon.

Next up is a 9 a.m. Thursday meeting, where questions will continue. The committee hasn’t yet started debating particular points of policy change.

As the bill moves through the committee process, delegates and committees can continue to propose amendments. Once the bill hits the House floor, delegates could vote to accept either the original Senate version or whatever has been produced by committee.

“It’s still a bad bill,” West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.” “There are aspects of the bill that are terrible.”

Bob Brown of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia commented, “There’s still a lot of work to be done on the bill.”

But Brown added, “We’ve already had more input on the House side than we did in the whole process of the bill moving through the Senate. I’m encouraged that we’re going to have some input. I’m discouraged that this still has some pretty egregious provisions we’re going to have to amend and deal with.”

Others described progress.

“It’s addressing many of the concerns I’ve heard about,” House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said during a floor speech, describing a cautious approach to school choice issues.

Here’s a draft copy of the bill the House Education Committee began to work on:

SB451 DRAFT Ed Cmte S&I for Press (Text)

On Wednesday afternoon, delegates on the Education Committee asked questions about many of its provisions.

It includes long-promised pay raises for educators. 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.

Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, questioned the provision that would withhold pay during work stoppages. “I’m still just confused about why this is beneficial to anyone,” he asked.

The bill is also referenced to the House Finance Committee.

Here is video of staff counsel’s explanation of the bill to committee members.

Audio streaming of committee meetings is available here.

Here is the roster of the Education Committee.

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