CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates voted to establish four select committees to consider education matters during a special session to change the state’s school system.
This happened during the first moments of the resumption of a special session that, so far, does not include education reform. Instead, lawmakers were passing bills that had been vetoed by the governor for technical reasons.
The legislative majorities continue to talk about June as the target date to focus the special session on education.
All House members are to take part in one of the four select committees, although the Speaker did not assign himself to one. A late add to Committee C was Delegate Chuck Little, R-Wood, who was just sworn in Monday morning.
— Jared Hunt (@jaredwv) May 20, 2019
This comes after education forums all over the state and after vigorous consideration of an omnibus education bill during the regular legislative session.
The committees may review legislation, receive testimony, evaluate and recommend action to the full House.
“With the Legislature anticipated to return soon to continue the Special Session goal of ‘education betterment,’ the Speaker wants to maximize lawmakers’ input in this process,” stated House spokesman Jared Hunt.
“With all delegates expected to be in Charleston and paid during this session, the Speaker wants to make sure they are working and actively participating in this process while they are here.”
Delegates voted 79-18 in favor of the resolution establishing the subcommittees.
Some Democrats asked about how often such a system has been established to consider a major topic such as education. Some also asked if the Education Committee wouldn’t normally be the route to consider such issues.
“Is this a normal procedure for folks outside the regular committee to be take up these issues?” asked Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, the ranking Democrat on the Education Committee. “Has it ever been done before?”
Speaker Roger Hanshaw replied that the special session may necessitate a different approach from usual and that he had not investigated historic precedents.
Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, speaking prior to consideration of the resolution, said he is generally in favor of the subcommittees.
“If the Speaker plans on appointing every member to an educational subcommittee with a specified topic, I would be in favor of that because it enables every member to learn a little bit more about the state’s public education system than what they might already know presently,” Miley said.
But Miley expressed some concern that the subcommittees could be one more step in a process that has already been lengthy.
“I’m not so sure this isn’t being done because there isn’t agreed-upon consensus about how to proceed forward,” Miley said. “That may be why we’re doing this because everyone has their own ideas about how to reform education.
“I still stick to my position of, let’s go back and pass out what the House passed out that had over 70 percent support and which also did a lot of good things to our education system. Sometimes the old paralysis by analysis — I hope we’re not going down that path in forming all these subcommittees. Because you can analyze something to death and not get something meaningful accomplished.”
During the regular session, the House passed a version of the education bill that had a limited number of pilot charter schools and no education savings accounts.
It did include a number of other provisions to provide pay raises for educators, increase the number of student wellness personnel in schools and to provide a solid financial base for small school systems.
The Senate majority amended that bill to include more charter schools and education savings accounts, which set aside taxpayer dollars for public school students who are moving toward private schooling. The House wound up tabling that version of the bill, leading to the special session.
Democrats had a press conference today in front of the Senate steps, touting several education bills that they were introducing during the special session.
“We’re going to introduce those bills and perhaps some additional ones on the House side, and I think the Republican caucus is going to have a number of bills that they’re going to introduce that are separate and distinct bills,” Miley said.
“So let’s just address the most meaningful pieces of legislation that will actually make a difference. My concern is we always get distracted by the shiny objects that do not get at the fundamental root cause of our education problems.”
Democrats from both chambers had a press conference today in support of several pieces of legislation addressing education.
Senate Democrats expressed disappointment by Monday evening that the education bills had not yet been taken up. In the Senate, they were assigned to the Education Committee.
“We are disappointed, but not surprised,” said Senator Roman Prezioso, D-Marion. “We put in the effort to come up with good, reasonable ideas that will improve education in our state. It’s a pity that the Republicans won’t read them.”