Update: Senate Adopts Amendment to Reinstate ESAs, Boost Charter Schools to 7 in 'Omnibus' Bill

Feb 18, 2019

Updated on Monday, Feb. 18, 2019 at 7:58 p.m.

The West Virginia Legislature continued a back and forth Monday on a long, sweeping and controversial education reform bill. The upper chamber adopted an amendment to the House of Delegate's version Senate Bill 451, which makes some notable changes to the measure.

Senate Education Chair Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson unveiled the amendment in a Monday afternoon floor session.

The amendment reinstates education savings accounts into the measure -- allowing for 1,000 accounts for parents of students with special needs. The version the House passed had eliminated that component from the bill entirely.

As for charter schools, seven may be authorized statewide and no more than two charter schools may be newly authorized statewide per year, according to the Senate amendment offered Monday. The House version had capped charters at two pilots statewide.

Another change to the bill puts a bonus for teachers and other school workers missing four or fewer days in a year back at $500. The House had upped that bonus to $1,000 in an amendment adopted on the floor last week

The Senate adopted the proposal on a 18-16 vote. Republican Sens. Bill Hamilton (Upshur) and Kenny Mann (Monroe) broke with the majority to join Democrats in voting no. A half hour later, that same vote count properly cleared the bill from the Senate and sent it to the House.

Senate Democrats argued that they were not given an opportunity to review the amendment.  

“This is like legislation by ambush,” Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, said. 

The chamber then recessed for more than an hour to allow members to review the amendment to the bill. 

But before the Senate could put the amendment to a vote, leaders of teacher and school service personnel unions announced the second statewide strike in as many years.

Earlier Monday, the House adjourned until 11 a.m. Tuesday, leaving any action on SB 451 out of the question in the meantime.

The lower chamber is left with two options -- concur with the Senate changes or reject the bill and send it to a conference committee.