The controversial education reform bill is dead. SB 451 collapsed in a heap earlier this week when House Republicans failed to muster enough votes to keep it alive.
Teachers and service workers have returned to their jobs after a two day strike. The House of Delegates is now working on a “clean” bill that provides an average five percent pay raise for teachers and service workers with no other provisions.
So a sense of calm has returned to the State Capitol. However, this could be only temporary. While the House is expected to advance the pay raise bill with little controversy, Senate Republicans are stewing.
Eighteen of the 20 Senate Republicans were all in on SB 451. They feel let down by the House and frustrated that many of the provisions of the bill they believe in, including school choice, have been pushed to the side. Many of the GOP Senators are in no mood to give teachers the raise while charter schools and education savings accounts are smoldering on the legislative trash heap.
Senator Craig Blair (R-Berkeley), Chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee and an important member of the Senate leadership team, said on Talkline Thursday he opposes a clean pay raise bill. Blair would rather see the $68 million intended for the pay raise to go toward road repairs.
I’m hearing a few would like to attach some of the provisions of SB 451 to the pay raise bill when it arrives, but there’s no point. Do Republicans really want to suffer another embarrassing defeat in the House? Better to declare victory and fight another day.
The Republican Senators may eventually cool down and support the stand alone pay raise bill, but what if they don’t? Without the majority support in the Senate the pay raise could collapse, forcing Governor Jim Justice to call a special session to try to hammer out an agreement.
The conventional wisdom is that teachers and service workers could not strike over a pay raise because they are already on record as saying their walkout this week was about the greater good of public education. If so, could teachers pivot and say now it is about the money?
One would think not, but the unions have a fired up base. That was evident this week when, with just a few hours notice, they shut down the state’s school system. And when WVEA President Dale Lee says at a Wednesday press conference, “We are announcing now that schools will be open tomorrow,” it’s clear the teachers have more power to call the shots than the Governor, legislators, school superintendents or county boards.
Teachers on the picket lines said they would forgo the pay raise to make sure that charter schools and ESAs do not get a foothold in the state, and that teachers with seniority are insulated from layoffs. Senate Republicans were among those who heard that message over and over.
Those Senators will probably come around on the pay raise after a few days, but they could also hold the teachers to their mantra during the strike—it’s about the kids, it’s not about the money.