Senate majority rolls out draft of big new education bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate is offering some heavy reading about “betterment” for your holiday weekend.

Senate leaders have released a proposed omnibus education bill in advance of a special session resuming. The “Student Success Act” is 144 pages.

“The release of this draft of the West Virginia Student Success Act is a major effort by the Senate to advance the cause of education reform in a bipartisan manner,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael stated.

“This bill boldly incorporates many suggestions and recommendations from the education forums that were held throughout the state. It reflects the input of teachers, students, and parents. There is widespread recognition that our state’s education system can be improved.”

Carmichael, R-Jackson, said the bill will provide pay raises for teachers, choices for parents and support for students.

Democrats in the Senate had already proposed seven individual education bills dealing with issues they believed have consensus.

Roman Prezioso

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, indicated some of those ideas have been included in the latest big education bill.

“We are encouraged to see the Senate leadership embrace much of our proposed legislation,” Prezioso stated. “We know that our ideas will work, and we are happy they agree. We’re very glad to have some common ground to move forward on.”

Prezioso said Democrats will have to assess aspects of the big bill that were not represented by their own introduced bills.

“Our caucus looks forward to reading and reviewing the bills in their entirety before making further decisions about the legislation,” Prezioso stated.

Gov. Jim Justice

Gov. Jim Justice issued a statement in support of the release of the draft education bill.

“I applaud the state Senate for making a significant move in attempting to create a bipartisan approach to education betterment,” Justice stated.

“I look forward to continuing to work with all members of the Legislature, the state School Board, and with all citizens of West Virginia in taking steps to make our education system better for students in the Mountain State.”

A special session on education “betterment” is expected to resume in June.

This all started when Justice and members of the Republican majority promised a pay raise for educators last October.

During the regular session, the majority in the Senate then rolled the pay raise into an omnibus bill — Senate Bill 451 — with other education issues, including some that were controversial. The House eventually tabled the bill.

Roger Hanshaw

The House of Delegates has been introducing individual bills. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw said he expects dozens to be introduced.

“We spent a lot of time on Senate Bill 451 during the regular session talking about things that were, at least in the minds of the members, things that they wanted to consider as standalone pieces,” he said this week.

“They wanted to consider charter schools as a freestanding concept. They wanted to consider the school funding formula as a freestanding concept. So that discussion is difficult to be had in the whole basket of a single bill.”

The House also has established four select committees of all the members to consider legislation.

Rollan Roberts

The challenge will be determining what can pass among the 100 members of the House of Delegates, said Senator Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh.

“Nobody can predict what’s going to happen there,” Roberts said. “Hopefully there will be enough support in the House to get the governor to sign the bill.”

The draft of a comprehensive education bill will help people assess what might pass during the upcoming session, Roberts said.

“This is not 451, but it is in the same vein as Senate Bill 451,” Roberts said on “Radio Roundtable” on WJLS-AM, referring to the omnibus bill considered during the regular session.

“Does it have all of the elements of 451? The answer is, not it does not. Does it have some new elements that came out during the teacher forum? Yes it does.”

Roberts said the new big bill treats some of the more controversial education policy issues differently than the prior bill did.

“Will the bill include charter schools? That’s the big question. I wish I had a drumroll right now. The answer is yes and no,” he said.

Charter schools could be handled  “with county boards opting in and without a central charter school board.”

“One of the things that drew a lot of ire from people was this independent board that would be running charter schools. Put in there that the individual counties would have say-so,” he said. “The individual counties, they can make it a charter school if they want.”

Education savings accounts won’t be in the big bill, Roberts suggested. Those set aside taxpayer dollars for students who are moving from public education to private schooling.

But there could be a separate bill that structures education savings accounts as a refundable tax credit.

“The education savings accounts will not be in this draft,” Roberts said. “It was just kind of a no-win situation.”

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