Gov. Jim Justice has called a special session to begin as soon as the 60-day regular legislative session ends Saturday. According to the governor, the special session will focus on “education betterment” with focus on a promised pay raise for teachers and service personnel, as well other aspects of the public education system.
Justice said in a news release that the Legislature will begin the special session immediately, but also take a recess. He said he wants lawmakers to return home to hear the suggestions of teachers, parents, community leaders and others invested in public education.
His main priority is an average 5 percent pay raise for teachers and school service personnel. Justice, along with Republican legislative leaders, promised those salary increases in October -- ahead of the 2018 midterm elections. Justice also called for those pay raises during his State of the State Address on the first day of the legislative session on Jan. 9.
“I know our legislators, education community, and the people of West Virginia want our education system to be better and believe that our employees deserve a raise, so you have my word that we will get it done,” Justice said in the news release.
With Saturday marking the end of session, Justice said it became “very clear” to him that lawmakers won’t accomplish the pay raises in time. However, he said, there is time to do so before the start of the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
The House of Delegates passed the teacher and service personnel pay raises within House Bill 2730. But Republican leadership in the Senate has yet to move on the measure.
Senate Finance Chair Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said Wednesday those raises aren’t entirely off the table, but implied they weren’t his main priority.
“We're making sure that people that didn't strike the session -- while we were trying to work -- are receiving the pay raises that we said that we’d give,” Blair said.
Blair said that he would still like to implement some aspects of education reform -- like charter schools and education savings accounts -- that failed earlier this session.
Senate Democrats have tried, but failed, to move forward on pay raises for teachers and service personnel. Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said Wednesday he suspected the rasies would force a special session.
“There doesn't appear to be any resolve,” Prezioso said about those raises in the context of the budget.
Justice also noted in the release his interest in other reforms, including changing the school aid formula to help smaller counties and increasing the number of school nurses, counselors, and psychologists.
“These all deserve adequate time to debate and consider, and a special session with a single focus is the right way to do it,” Justice said.
The 60 Day regular session ends Saturday at midnight.