CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Dozens of public educators spoke out against an omnibus education bill during a hearing at the state Capitol.
Speakers at the public hearing were given 60 seconds each to express their positions. The time limit rankled many of the speakers who contended few lawmakers have listened to them during the months of debate over the structure of West Virginia’s education system.
One speaker, Tonya Stuart of Harrison County, made that point by placing tape over her mouth for the duration of her allotted time.
Another speaker, Ian Helmick of Morgan County said to delegates, “We were told this was traditionally the people’s house, listening to the people of West Virginia. You’re not.”
Those who spoke against the charter schools provision in the broad-based bill said public schools would be weakened. They also described charter schools as money-making enterprises meant to enrich supporters and corporations.
Most speakers said West Virginia’s public school system needs more support, particularly for guidance counselors and school nurses. They contended that should be the focus, rather than a provision allowing charter schools.
“I want to fix our schools for our kids, all kids in all counties,” said C. Bryan Daugherty, a teacher at Ritchie County High School.
Nicole McCormick, president of Mercer County Education Association and a music teacher, talked about buying lunch for children without means, or prom tickets. “We go to funerals of parents who have died of overdoses,” she said.
“We are the experts. We are the ones who live this life every day,” McCormick said. “My question to anyone who would vote for this legislation is, who are you listening to?”
Some spoke in favor of the charter schools provision.
Jessi Troyan of the conservative Cardinal Institute compared solving the education to a Rubik’s Cube, describing various challenges. Completing the solid on one side of the Rubik’s Cube doesn’t solve the whole puzzle.”
Roy Raymond of Cabell County, a veteran, spoke of freedom and choices, including in the school system.
“None of us serve to serve an overbearing government,” he said. “I’m advocating in favor of this bill.”
Discontent with the time limit was an undercurrent throughout the hearing.
Joe White of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, commented: “My heart is hurting because the voice of West Virginia has 60 seconds to speak.”
Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, was running the public hearing. Wilson cut off White at the 60-second mark, as he did other speakers. When the crowd reacted, Wilson said, “Keep order or I will shut down this hearing.”
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, used his time to thank teachers and supporters.
“I want to thank the galleries and the people who came out here. These are the true experts on public education who have demanded not once, not twice but three times that their voices be heard,” Lee said.
Toward the end, Delegate Wilson directed Lee. “Please keep your comments to the bill.”
Lee raised his hands in question. “I can’t thank people?”
As the hearing concluded, Wilson himself thanked those who participated.
“I’d like to thank each one of you for being here,” Wilson said, “for taking part in your constitutionally-formed democratic republic.”