Updated Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019 at 6:00 p.m.
The West Virginia House of Delegates’ Education Committee has outlined a draft strike-and-insert amendment to a long, sweeping and controversial education reform bill.
In a Wednesday meeting, the committee outlined their proposed version of Senate Bill 451, which removes paycheck protection and a non-severability clause from the measure.
The proposed legislation, now down to 129 pages, still includes teacher and school service pay raises as well as provisions opposed by public educators and the leaders of their unions, including charter schools.
However, the House Education Committee is proposing a cap of six charter schools and removing virtual charter schools from the bill.
Education savings accounts — which are vouchers for students switching from public to private schools —
would be limited to those who have special needs.
School counselors would now have to devote 80 percent of their time to direct counseling of students.
Other changes can be found on this document provided to committee members:
In @wvhouse Education’s strike-and-insert on SB 451, paycheck protection and non-severability clause has been removed. Here’s a list of other changes. Committee is expected to meet again this afternoon. #wvlegis pic.twitter.com/Cj3hqkIrWb
— Dave Mistich (@davemistich) February 6, 2019
House Education Chair Danny Hamrick (R-Harrison) noted that the Wednesday morning and afternoon meetings were informational only and that the bill is still in draft form.
“This is a starting point. This piece of legislation in front of us is a strike and insert amendment. It’s expected, in meeting with different stakeholders, members of the committee and members of the House, that this document will probably change quite a bit between now and the time that it's voted on — either by changes to the strike and insert or amendments in the committee,” Hamrick said.
After recessing, the committee reconvened Wednesday afternoon, with members asking questions of committee and counsel.
Democrats in the House say they are glad the bill is moving in their chamber through the traditional committee process. Those comments are a subtle jab at Senate Republicans. When it appeared Senate Bill 451 would have died in the upper chamber's Finance Committee, the majority party sent the bill to the Committee of the Whole. It passed the full Senate Monday on an 18-16 vote.
“I’d like to tip my hat to Speaker Hanshaw, Mark Dean and Danny Hamrick as [vice chair and chair] of this committee and being committed, again, to not rushing through and letting stakeholders be involved to give their say and give their input for the best product,” House Education Minority Chair Sean Hornbuckle (D-Cabell) said.
But Hornbuckle and other Democrats remain unsatisfied with the current state of the bill and plan to chip away at some of the provisions that don't sit well with the minority caucus.
“We're going to make sure that we're putting our students, teachers and parents first. And, again, we want to make sure that we're not just going to give something to 10 percent of the population — [but] that we're going to do it for all kids and make sure that education services are better for everyone,” Hornbuckle said.
Leaders of educator and service personnel unions hold similar perspectives.
“We're sort of discouraged by what is still in the bill. But, we're encouraged about the process [in the House]. The bill just about came out on the other side [the same as when] it went in,” said Bob Brown, who is with the American Federation of Teachers.
Local members of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association are voting this week to decide whether to authorize their leadership to call for a strike if and when they would feel it necessary.
The unions are also planning a statewide meeting in Flatwoods for Saturday, Feb. 9.
“We will have major discussions with our leaders and with our members as to what thresholds need to be and what the triggers are," said West Virginia Education Association president Dale Lee. "It won't be a decision made at the top. It's a decision that will be member-driven and that is based on our discussions with our members.”
Should the House Education Committee adopt the strike-and-insert amendment proposed Wednesday, the Senate's Engrossed Committee Substitute (which passed the upper chamber on an 18-16 vote) – along with that proposed House Education Committee strike-and-insert amendment – would then go to the House Finance Committee for a second reference, according to a Wednesday email from House communications director Jared Hunt.
"The House Finance Committee could choose to work with that proposed Education Committee strike-and-insert amendment, or propose their own. Then the engrossed bill, and their proposed amendment, would then be reported to the House floor," Hunt wrote. "The bill would be read a first time, then on 2nd reading the full House would vote whether to adopt the proposed committee strike-and-insert amendment, or any other additional amendments that are offered at that time."
With amendments and additional action yet to be had, the House Education Committee will continue discussion of the Senate Bill 451 Thursday at 9 a.m.