CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The leaders of West Virginia’s three education workers groups are calling on Gov. Jim Justice to cancel next week’s special session if lawmakers plan on bringing up the same education reform issues the leaders say have been rejected by the general public.
“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 at a Wednesday morning state capitol news conference flanked by West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee and and West Virginia School Service Personnel President Joe White.
The three cited information from the report issued last week by the state Department of Education following the eight public forums held across the state in March and April on education reform.
“West Virginians spoke loudly and clearly,” Lee said. “Eighty-eight percent said they’re not interested in charters (charter schools), they’re not interested in ESAs (Education Savings Accounts). They’re interested in the things that will make a difference for their kids not out of state interests.”
When asked if their reason for opposing a special session now was based on possibly losing their leverage of a work stoppage because of approaching summer vacation, the union leaders said that wasn’t the case.
“Our members were here in February (for a two-day strike) and they would show up again,” Albert predicted.
Albert, Lee and White all said the education reform issues should receive individual full debate that a regular session would allow.
“If the legislative leadership wants to bring up the same ol’, same ol’, let’s do that in regular session. Let’s glove up and meet in January and let the bell ring,” White said.
Albert said a special session costs $35,000 a day.
“That’s a hefty price tag at a second attempt at retaliation against education employees by legislative leadership,” Albert said. “It’s fiscally irresponsible to spend taxpayer money on a special session that blatantly ignores the will of the public.”
The groups haven’t spoken directly with Gov. Justice about their request. Lee said he believes Justice would consider a cancellation or possibly amending the special session agenda to only include reform issues that have significant support.
“Let’s narrow the call to those things that we know everybody has consensus on, get those passed, get them out of the way,” Lee said. “But if you’re going to look at contentious items you’re wasting money.”
Providing more wraparound services for students appears to be one of those issues with broad support.
Carmichael: No consensus yet
State Senate President Mitch Carmichael talked with members of his caucus Wednesday. He said during a Wednesday morning appearance on 580 Live with Danny Jones on 580 WCHS Radio in Charleston Senate Republicans were united behind a reform package and now he’s trying to get a few Democrats on board.
“We would like to get some bipartisan support as it comes through the Senate,” Carmichael said. “These (Dem senators) are world class people that want the right things for the right reasons. I want to have an open mind approach to this to see if we can get them on board. I look forward to that.”
Carmichael said he doesn’t believe the House of Delegates would be ready to consider reform issues by early next week.
“We will not have consensus at this point. Obviously within the Senate we’re able to do this but other entities that are involved are not at this point,” Carmichael said.
Hanshaw: House leadership working on flexibility bills
House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw said Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after the news conference by the unions, that House leadership had started work on various pieces of education reform legislation to increase flexibility on the local level.
“After hearing input from our local meetings and studying the Department of Education’s ‘West Virginia’s Voice’ report, we wholeheartedly agree with the need to let our teachers and local officials provide the best system possible that meets the needs of their local communities,” Hanshaw said in a news release.
“As such, I’ve instructed our House attorneys to begin a systematic review of the state codes dealing with education to identify any unnecessary, antiquated or burdensome laws that are hindering educators’ ability to deliver a world-class education to our students,” Speaker Hanshaw said. “While much of these sections of state code were well-intentioned and may have been good ideas at the time, they have come to shackle the hands of our educators, who now spend far too much time complying with rules and regulations instead of teaching our students.”
Hanshaw was not specific in Wednesday’s release but Lee said at the news conference he’s heard Hanshaw is working on a plan that would abolish Chapters 18 and 18A of the West Virginia Code. That part of the code deals with a lot of personnel rules for teachers. Lee said he hasn’t seen the proposal but would be concerned if personnel issues are turned over to the state Department of Education.
“We’ve worked long and hard to get those protections,” Lee said.
Albert also expressed concern. He said lawmakers are elected and can be held accountable. He said state Board of Education members are appointed.
Hanshaw said he’s invited attorneys from the House Democrats, state Senate and state BOE to join in the code review.
“We will continue to diligently work to build consensus around a plan and a series of bills addressing various aspects of public education that will accomplish our goal of bettering our school systems,” Hanshaw said. “It is my hope that we can produce a series of proposals soon so we can reform our education system and deliver the promised 5-percent pay increase to our teachers and service personnel by the end of this fiscal year.”