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Carmichael indicates Senate will OK latest omnibus education bill; Justice says he’ll sign it

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Senate President Mitch Carmichael indicates an omnibus education bill will likely pass that chamber – again — and Gov. Jim Justice says he will sign it.

The House of Delegates passed the bill 51-47 late Wednesday evening. The question quickly turned to whether the Senate would pass it and if the governor would sign it.

Both quickly weighed in on their positions.

“I’ll sign it and be very, very proud to sign it,” Justice said during a West Virginia Day celebration.

“It’s a good bill and everything, and it does make things better and it does reward our teachers and our service personnel, all of our people who are involved in so many different ways. So it’s a good bill, a really good bill. I’ll proudly sign it.”

Carmichael indicated the Republican majority in the Senate will meet soon, likely passing the bill.

“I am eager for the Senate to pass this bill when we reconvene, and I am hopeful that Governor Justice will show his support by signing it quickly,” Carmichael said in a statement released by his office.

Appearing on “580 Live,” Carmichael made similar comments, indicating likely approval of the bill that passed the House.

The bill includes a variety of proposed changes to the education system, including pay raises, charter schools, increased support personnel for schools, open enrollment, incentives to fill in-demand positions and financial support for small or struggling counties.

But the focus has been on a provision of the bill allowing charter schools in West Virginia.

This version wound up with an allowance of three charter schools initially, followed by a possibility of three more in 2023 with an additional three possible every three years. Local school boards would have to approve the charter schools.

A version the Senate passed a couple of weeks ago had an unlimited number, also requiring local school board approval.

Carmichael was cool to some of the changes made by the House, but he still described the bill as progress.

“But from a conceptual viewpoint, does it go far enough, is it substantive, is it bold enough? No, no question. It’s not,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson. “However, it’s a step in the right direction and I’ll never let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Ryan Weld

Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, appearing on MetroNews “Talkline,” said senators are likely to reconvene soon to vote on the bill.

“We’re generally supportive of everything that’s in there and allowing this to go downstairs and hopefully be signed into law by Governor Justice,” said Weld, R-Brooke.

Although the Senate passed an omnibus education bill earlier this month, the House set that one aside and introduced its own bill. So the Senate will need to do a full series of votes on the House bill, rather than just approving or rejecting it.

Weld hoped to have enough votes to suspend rules, completing action on the bill in fewer than three days.

“We’re hoping that if we’re going to pass it as it is, we can do it before three days. We’re hoping we can talk with our senators on the other side of the aisle and see if we can shorten that time frame,” Weld said.

“It’s going to take some of their votes if we are going to take care of this in one day and get this downstairs.”

Justice and legislative Republicans gathered together to promise a pay raise for educators last October. During the regular session, the Republican majority in the Senate bundled the pay raise with a variety of other education policy changes.

That bill bounced back and forth until finally being tabled by the House.

Justice then called a special session on education “betterment” that started with forums all around the state.

When senators gathered again earlier this month, they again bundled the education policies into one bill that included charter schools and anti-strike provisions. The Governor’s Office initially released a statement in support of the Senate bill.

When the Senate then went into session, the governor expressed concern with the approach. He took issue with some of the policy details and also questioned whether the special session was going anywhere.

“I think being here is not any good. I think we’re spending taxpayer dollars. We should have already figured this out,” Justice said June 2. “And I don’t think it’s any good.”

Speaking on West Virginia Day, Justice said the bill passed by the House was more to his liking.

“All along, I didn’t want us to fragment one another,” he said. “And I have said all along that I would be in favor of two or three charter pilot schools and everything, and that’s where we ended up. We ended up with three and after we go to 2023, we go to a review board and if everything is working and working great, we’ll do more.

“And the teachers and everybody is able to get their pay raise and all the other good stuff, the really good stuff.”

Dale Lee

The leaders of the two big teachers unions expressed disappointment that the omnibus education bill continues to move.

“The charters, we’ve never made any bones about where we are on there,” said West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee. “Now our focus has to be on the 2020 election and make sure we get people there who listen to the people.”

Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said it appears the omnibus education bill has few obstacles.

Fred Albert

“I think they already had a deal. They had a deal early on yesterday – actually before yesterday,” Albert said. “I think it’s going to be an easy pass through the Senate. I don’t look for them to tarry very long.”

Albert was trying to be optimistic.

“It’s a new day. You don’t always get everything you want,” he said.

“This bill gives us many good things. We’re disappointed they didn’t listen to the citizens of West Virginia who have said overwhelmingly we do not want charter schools. There are many good things in this bill, and we have to count our blessings every day for the good things.”

Governor Justice was feeling good about matters.

“I think all of us now are on board and have done a good job and I’ll very proudly sign it,” Justice said.

“We’ve got goodness there and everything. I mean, we’re on a roll, that’s all there is to it. We’re on top of the wave now.”

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