CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senate President Mitch Carmichael acknowledged a special session on education won’t start next week as originally indicated, but said the session will start a couple of weeks after that with a bundle of bills meant to change West Virginia’s school system.
“I think we’re looking at no more than another two weeks to launch our ‘Student Success Act,'” Carmichael said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
He said that’s legislation with spectrum of proposed changes to the education system.
“There will be a core package integrated into one bill that will have something for everyone,” he said.
— MetroNews (@WVMetroNews) May 16, 2019
The special session is technically already in effect. Lawmakers gaveled into it immediately after the regular legislative session ended in March and immediately recessed. Over several weeks, lawmakers participated in public forums on education around the state.
But since then, finding consensus on what should be included in the special session has remained a challenge.
“Amidst confusion and mixed messages on whether or not the May session will address education, Senate Democrats are no longer waiting for leadership to start leading. They will introduce eight bills on Monday,” the Democrats in the Senate announced.
Teachers unions had a press conference on Wednesday saying Gov. Jim Justice should cancel the special session if the agenda includes charter schools and education savings accounts.
“We call on Gov. Justice to cancel the special session on education and allow any proposed reforms to be debated fully during the next regular session of the legislature in 2020,” West Virginia American Federation of Teachers President Fred Albert said.
Justice has said he welcomes ways to improve the education system, but wants to avoid topics that could devolve into “a food fight.”
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw has described work on various pieces of legislation aiming at more flexibility on the local level.
No one has yet specified when the education focus will resume or what it might include.
Carmichael said the session will go forward. He noted that now that the special session has been called by the governor, it is already happening.
“People who are calling for the governor to cancel the special session, he doesn’t even have that as an option,” Carmichael said.
Among proposals under consideration, he said, would be charter schools and education savings accounts, which would set aside taxpayer dollars for families with students moving from public school to private education.
Carmichael cast charter schools as an option that should be available to communities and school systems.
“No one is requiring anyone to charter a school. We’re merely saying this is permissive language,” he said.