CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Like a prizefighter slumped in the corner of the ring, West Virginia’s embattled education reform law will have to answer another bell in coming weeks.
The West Virginia Education Association announced Wednesday it intends to sue the state over the recent passage of a bill, which it says is unconstitutional while going beyond the will of the people.
“Well, we think the whole thing violates West Virginia’s Constitution,” WVEA President Dale Lee said Wednesday from the union’s headquarters in Charleston.
The president referred to a statement the union released earlier.
Said statement decried the legislation for: “its ‘single object’ provision of bills; the ‘thorough and efficient’ public education requirement; the establishing of new boards to govern charter schools; the lack of voter approval for a number of things associated with charter schools; and the ‘void of vagueness’ doctrine.”
Lee said union attorneys are at work on the suit, which will be filed in Kanawha County Circuit Court “as soon as possible.”
It was hardly an “as soon as possible” set of circumstances for the bill and its earlier incarnations that didn’t make it off the floor during January’s legislative session.
Partisan rancor stalled the bill and even sparked a brief walkout by teachers across the state while its particulars were being debated.
Gov. Jim Justice, though, called lawmakers back to Charleston for a special session last month to revisit the legislation, known officially as House Bill 206. The governor’s office didn’t return calls in time for this report.
The revamped bill, meanwhile, narrowly cleared the Senate by an 18-16 vote, while thunderstorms raged and a tornado touched down near the capitol.
That tally was mainly along party lines. Republican lawmakers generally supported the bill while their counterparts on the Democratic side of the aisle didn’t.
House Bill 206’s charter schools statute kicked up the biggest wind of all.
Teachers and the WVEA were generally opposed to the measure, which allows for the creation of three such schools by 2023 — with potentially three more, every three years.
Sen. President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, countered, though, and said those opposed to the legislation because of its call for charter schools are missing the scope of intent for the bill.
“While we certainly respect the WVEA’s right to take its grievances with education reform to the court of law, I’m extremely disheartened by this action,” he said, in a statement.
“The WVEA is an organization that claims to represent the interests of teachers, yet it has now started a process that puts at risk millions of dollars directly to county school systems and a second consecutive year of 5-percent raises to teachers and service personnel.
“It’s sad that the obsessive hysteria over the possibility of an elected board of education authorizing a charter school — two years from now — is enough to completely overshadow the benefits of House Bill 206.
“This bill gives West Virginia’s students, teachers, and parents multitude of resources that are desperately needed and wanted, and they help lay a foundation for the kind of world-class education our children deserve.
“I’m not surprised by the attempt of these union bosses to derail the Legislature’s efforts to improve education, but I’m still very disappointed by it.”
The WVEA may not be going alone in the lawsuit. The West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, the state’s other union for educators and other public employees, has also been mulling the idea of litigation.
“We’re exploring all our options,” union president Fred Albert said, speaking by telephone from an event in Washington, D.C.
Gov. Jim Justice’s office said Wednesday evening it was “premature to comment” on the matter, as the lawsuit has yet to be filed.
Story by Jim Bissett of The Dominion Post