Hamrick optimistic of education bill compromise

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The omnibus education bill, Senate Bill 451, is now pending in the House Finance Committee, after passing on a 15-10 in the House Education Committee Friday night.

While that proposal looks much different than what the Senate sent the House of Delegates a week ago, Harrison County Delegate and Chairman of the House Education Committee Danny Hamrick said he believes it’s a good bill.

“Personally, I think it could be a little stronger, of course, but it is a process, and we managed to work through that process and come to a consensus with the majority of the members of our committee,” Hamrick said Monday on MetroNews “Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval.” “We got to a point where we did have 15 members vote for the bill, and overall I think that was a success.”

Changes to bill included limiting charter schools to a provision for only two counties and eliminating the education savings account (ESA) language.

“I do think ESAs could be a valuable tool moving forward for parents to have some choices in education, but I also realize that it’s a very big task, and if it were to remain in the bill, there did need to be some clarifying language to tighten that up a little bit, to make sure there were enough rules in place to keep there from being any issues with that in the future,” Hamrick said.

When it comes to the charter schools, Hamrick explained “it would have to be voted on by 50 percent of the faculty, there would have to be buy in from the parents, and then approval from the county board.

“It’s a very optional approach,” he said. “The state is not forcing anyone to do anything. If a county or a school feels that’s the direction they want to go in, then they’d have that option, the way it’s in the bill currently.”

During Monday’s public hearings, Hamrick said he heard remarks that there aren’t “any valuable tools” in the bill.

“I think that’s probably just motivated by politics, and they’re out there as a way to dissuade anybody from possibly supporting this bill. It is definitely a valuable tool,” he said.

From the $24 million for professional support personnel to guarantee one per school in the state, to expanding the tax credit to be for not only teachers but also service personnel, and of course the 5 percent pay raise, Hamrick pointed out many positives he finds within the bill’s 124-pages.

“Again the biggest pay raise, pretty much in state history. I don’t think there’s anybody in the legislature that doesn’t want that to happen again and move forward on that,” he said. “I think that improves our standings a lot, where we’re ranked at with the pay of our teachers. It doesn’t quite get us where we want to be. None of us want to be low on that scale, but it’s definitely an improvement and will definitely help, I think, with retaining good educators in the state.”

The House Finance Committee will make any amendments it deems necessary, at which point both proposals will be presented to House floor.

If it passes the House, the bill will then return to the Senate. The Senate could then could either accept or work their own bill. The matter could potentially end up in a conference committee.

“I think the bill retains a decent amount of the Senate’s original proposal. I think working through the process, Finance may be able to strengthen the bill up a little more to overcome some of the Senate’s concerns and we’ll see where we’re at,” Hamrick said. “Even if we go to a conference committee, I think we can come to a pretty good compromise and get a version back to the House that at least a majority of members can agree on.”

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