CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s still not clear when a special session on education betterment will resume or what will be on the agenda.
State officials have hinted that resumption of the special session could coincide with regularly scheduled interim meetings May 20 and 21.
Even though that date is approaching, no one has yet confirmed.
“We’re going to continue to push for it. We will have a special session,” said Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson. “Whether we get to every component of education reform in the May time frame, I’m beginning to wonder.
“There will be powerful forces that will want to delay and wait longer and longer. But we will definitely get to it. I don’t know if everything will be done in May, but it will definitely happen.”
House Minority Leader Tim Miley listened to Carmichael’s comments about the special session and didn’t get much clarity.
“I’m still as uncertain today after hearing those comments as I was prior to his interview as to when this educational special session is going to occur,” said Miley, D-Harrison.
Miley said lawmakers need to know soon so they can be sure their schedules don’t conflict. He noted that it’s been a couple of months since the end of the regular session, with a statewide series of education forums in the meantime.
“So I’m not sure why there is still this uncertainty,” Miley said.
A West Virginia Voices report that came out this week was supposed to provide guidance for the special session. It was a result of education forums around the state, as well as surveys.
The report addresses many issues with West Virginia schools, including teacher pay, local levy rates, teacher preparation programs, whether in-demand areas such as math teachers could receive higher pay, open enrollment, flexibility and needs for student support personnel.
Trying to figure out when the special session resumes or what will be discussed has been a puzzle for other legislators too.
“The indications I’ve gotten are that it’s still likely to happen this month, but I really don’t know,” state Senator Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, said earlier this week on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
Senator Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, expressed concern that there’s no clear date or agenda during an interview with WJLS-AM.
“There’s been no formal communication that we have received, really, or informal communication about when we may come back or working together to build consensus on — if and when we come back — can we compromise? There’s been none of that,” Baldwin said.
This all started last October when Gov. Jim Justice, surrounded by Republican lawmakers, promised pay raises for teachers and service personnel.
During the regular session, the Senate majority bundled the pay raises into an omnibus education bill that also included lightning rod issues such as charter schools and education savings accounts, which are like vouchers.
The bill wound up being tabled in the House of Delegates, and the pay raises were set aside.
Justice then announced “education betterment” would be the subject of a special session. He said that would include “improving, modifying and making efficiencies to the state’s public education system and employee compensation.”
Lawmakers gaveled out of the regular session and then immediately into the special session. But they recessed right away to take part in the forums around the state.
Since then, it’s been unclear exactly what will constitute betterment.
Carmichael proposed a new idea for consideration during his appearance on “Talkline.”
He described providing more funding flexibility than the current school funding formula allows.
“What if we just gave and trusted our local entities, our local schools, our local teachers to get the money and to allocate it in the manner they feel is best,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson.
He agreed the concept might operate somewhat like a block grant.
“What works in Pocahontas County might not be exactly what works in Ohio County or Monongalia County or Kanawha County,” he said. “I trust our school boards or the people of West Virginia to make their own decisions on the local control of their school systems.”
Carmichael described his idea as transformational.
“It puts the parents back in charge of the school system and drives control to the local level,” he said.