CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A special session that could include changes to West Virginia’s education system is starting to start to take shape.
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, speaking today on MetroNews’ “Talkline” said it’s possible — but not certain — the special session could coincide with interim meetings that are already set for May 20-21.
“I think that’s as likely a date as any,” Hanshaw said.
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) April 24, 2019
The Legislature is, technically, already in a special session. Lawmakers gaveled into it on the last night of the regular session and then immediately recessed.
Over the past weeks, legislators have been participating in forums on education all over the state. Many of those were coordinated by the state Department of Education, but lawmakers also had some on their own.
By next week, state officials hoped a synopsis of those meetings would be available. Work would then start to put recommendations into the language of bills.
“We’re beginning to get a sense of what some of the consistent themes are from the meetings,” Hanshaw said.
Hanshaw said he planned to talk with Senate President Mitch Carmichael this afternoon about the special session.
Besides the date, a lot of other questions remain.
One is the amount of time a special session might take. At an estimated cost of $35,000 a day, lawmakers have hoped not to make the session last long.
The regular session spent hours and hours focusing on an omnibus education bill that included some controversial elements.
“I don’t anticipate we’re in town a long time,” Hanshaw said. “Things will either pass or fail and people will either be on board with proposals or not. I don’t think there is motivation by anyone to make this a long, protracted process.”
Another question is what’s on the agenda.
Hanshaw said some of those are becoming clear.
“We’re hearing lots and lots of support for the proposals that were considered during the session on additional guidance counselors and some of the support personnel that we tried to put in to classrooms around the state,” he said.
That support was estimated to be a $24 million commitment during the regular session. Hanshaw said there is significant support.
“We know we have teachers dealing with things that they didn’t in generations past,” he said. “We’ve got an entire generation of students now who have had to deal with various things that flow from the opioid crisis. Teachers just aren’t trained for that.”
Hanshaw also wants to look at outdated sections of state code still governing local classrooms.
“Where have we given mandates to local county boards and school systems that simply aren’t relevant today?” he asked. “The goal of that effort is we can repeal a bunch of things that just no longer make sense.”
The biggest question might be how a special session would deal with charter schools and education savings accounts, issues that were the most contentious during the regular session.
“Do I support those ideas you just laid out? I do. I voted for them many times during the regular session and would do so again,” he said.
“I’m also open to some other things that give students, parents, teachers and administrators some school choice options.”
Education savings accounts would set aside taxpayer dollars for families with children moving from public school to private education. Five states have such programs.
Responding to a question this week in Brooke County, Gov. Jim Justice said he is comfortable trying a few charter schools in West Virginia but remains skeptical of education savings accounts.
He also referenced “paycheck protection,” which would have required education union members to annually authorize dues being deducted from their wages.
“I absolutely believe that the education savings accounts and the paycheck protection, things like that, were just stuff that made people mad,” Justice said. “Whether there’s merit or not merit, I’m not going to debate that. It just made people mad.
“What we need to do, though — I am an absolute advocate of some form of charter schools on a pilot basis. If we had two or three pilot charter schools, I think there is nothing wrong with that.”
Justice advocated for changes to the school aid formula aimed at supporting low-income counties, incentive pay for science and math teachers and additional counselors and nurses, along with the pay raise he has advocated for months.
Justice suggested reaching agreement where possible and not arguing over the rest.
“If we don’t get any deeper than that right there — that’s just what we get done — and we put that to bed right now, then let’s just get our training wheels on the bike and put that to bed right now and quit hacking up with one another about everything coming and going. That’s what I think we need to do.”