Republicans get on the same page on education reform… finally

It took a while—okay, it took six months—but Republicans in the state Senate, the House of Delegates and the Republican Governor finally got on the same page.

The Senate’s version of comprehensive education reform—SB 451—originated in the Senate Education Committee way back on January 28th.  What followed was months of debate and dispute, a two-day teacher strike, several reincarnations of the bill and dozens of amendments.

More than a few times it appeared education “betterment,” as Governor Justice called it, would just sink under its own weight.  Sure, the Democrats and the teacher and service worker unions opposed an omnibus bill because of, among other things, the creation of charter schools, but the Governor and Republican leaders just kept playing legislative ping pong instead of utilizing their majorities.

The longer that went on, the more tensions increased.  Just two weeks ago, Justice accused Senate Republicans of imploding and Republican Senate Finance Committee Chairman Craig Blair called Justice an embarrassment and said he should resign.

Shoot, all Democrats had to do was watch in amusement while the Governor and Republicans carried out their political circular firing squad.  But then the paradigm began to shift.

House Republican leaders crafted their own bill (HB 206), one that was like the Senate bill, but with important changes to attract more votes.  Interim House Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson) worked the caucus member by member to find a sweet spot.

But it wasn’t enough just to have a majority in the House.  Republican leaders had to make sure that substantive changes were also acceptable to Senate Republicans.  The House plan allowed for charter schools, but with a cap of 10.

That was an issue for Governor Justice, who didn’t want that many.  At a meeting Tuesday with Republican leaders at the Governor’s mansion, Justice proposed a compromise plan—authorization of up to three charter schools every three years.

The proposal was acceptable to House Republicans, and Senate Republicans preferred the Governor’s idea to the House plan because there was no cap.  There were still differences between House and Senate Republicans, but not enough to sacrifice the bill. The three-three charter deal was the lynchpin for the agreement.

House Republican leaders had whipped their members—hard.  They knew going into the long debate Wednesday that they had 51 votes.

Following House passage late Wednesday night, Justice tweeted out his support for the bill. “I’m thrilled that the @wvhouse took a major step toward building new opportunities for our children.”

Senate Republicans are also on board.  They caucused by phone Thursday morning and the consensus was that a majority would support the bill. “I am eager for the Senate to pass this bill when we reconvene, said Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson). “And I’m hopeful Governor Justice will show his support by signing it quickly.”

During interviews Thursday, Justice left no doubt he would.  “I’ll sign it and be very, very proud to sign it,” Justice said.

The near unanimity among Republicans and the Governor is in sharp contrast to the discord that existed just a few days ago, but sometimes politics and legislating work that way. The disparate Republican leaders and the Governor finally realized, after six months of political tug of war, that they all needed to grab the same end of the rope.


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