With hundreds of teachers, school service personnel and other supporters spread across the capitol complex Monday, the West Virginia House of Delegates began its work on a special session focused on overhauling public education. Monday offered a flurry of activity in the House of Delegates, with floor sessions and committee meetings illustrating a mostly partisan divide -- and majority Republicans unveiling new proposals.
The issue of education has festered at the Capitol for months, with leading Republican lawmakers continuing to push school choice proposals like charter schools and education savings accounts.
Teachers in West Virginia walked off the job for two days in February to oppose those proposals -- as well as others they call “attacks on public education” -- and have continued to make their presence felt in Charleston and elsewhere around the state.
House Democrats Fail to Stall Senate Omnibus, Attempt to Adjourn Session
Shortly after gaveling in Monday morning, Del. Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, called on lawmakers to refuse the Senate’s message on the passage of Senate Bill 1039. The measure, which includes pay raises, charter schools and a provision that would punish teachers for going on strike, narrowly cleared the upper chamber earlier this month on a 18-15 vote.
Majority Leader Amy Summers then moved to table Bates’ motion. Summers’ motion was adopted on a 53-44 vote.
But Democrats in the House didn’t stop there in trying to slow down the Republican-led Legislature’s efforts on education reform.
Del. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, moved to have the House abandon the special session and adjourn sine die. That motion was rejected on a mostly party line vote 41-56. In breaking with their respective parties, Republican Del. Pat McGeehan (Hancock) and Tony Paynter (Wyoming) voted to adjourn, while Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, supported the continuation of the session.
Following those rejected motions, Del. Bates addressed the House to voice his opposition to the Senate proposals and the special session as a whole.
“Under Senate President Mitch Carmichael's leadership and Gov. Justice’s lack of it, ‘betterment’ has become an embarrassment,” Bates said on the floor. “Because of their actions and inactions, Mr. Speaker, you and this House have the opportunity to show leadership and to join together with us and send a message that we don’t intend to spend the next week wasting time and money debating things that people say they don't want when we could be spending time ensuring they have the things that they need.”
House Offers Its Own Omnibus, Other Separate Proposals
Throughout meetings Monday, four select committees originated a number of bills related to the special session. One of those measures would provide only for a pay raise, while others address various aspects of public education.
But most notably, the House Education Select Committee C unveiled their own omnibus, House Bill 206. Like Senate Bill 1039, House Bill 2016 includes teacher and service personnel pay raises -- but it does offer some differences from the Senate’s complex and controversial bill.
Although House Bill 206 allows for charter schools, the 144-page bill would cap the number at ten, could only be approved by county boards and couldn’t be established before 2021. The measure also does not include language that would punish teachers for going on strike.
Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Ohio, sought to send the new House omnibus to the chamber’s education committee.
Hornbuckle’s motion was rejected on a 42-54 vote.
House Sessions Will Continue Into Tuesday, Wednesday
With Republicans in the House unable to suspend the rules and put the bills up for a vote Monday, the special session will continue into Tuesday.
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, acknowledged the need for the chamber to complete its work as quickly as possible. He suggested that he hopes the House will finish by the end of this week.
“I think if we don't get it done this week, it just drags on into the summer months when people already have vacation schedule -- they have work commitments, they have professional trainings, they have family affairs, they have all the things that Americans do,” Hanshaw said. “And I think if we don't get it done this week, there's there's a high likelihood that we would just not not take it up until we get back together again, at a regularly scheduled time.”
With the House select committee taking no action on controversial measures like Senate Bill 1039 and Senate Bill 1040 (which calls for education savings accounts -- a voucher program for public dollars to be spent on private education), Hanshaw said it was important for the House to come up with its own version of education reform.
“I hope you notice that we actually started somewhat afresh here. So we’ve created a House Bill out of it. We want the public to understand that this is a House product. This is not the House taking what the Senate did, whole cloth. It's quite a different bill,” Hanshaw said.
But union leaders have called the new omnibus more of the same and have called on delegates to reject the latest large proposal.
Should the House pass only bills of their own making and leave Senate Bills by the wayside, the Senate would need to work through three readings of each, further extending the special session.
The House of Delegates will return to action at 1 p.m. Tuesday, and the House Education Select Committee C will hold a public hearing Wednesday at 8 a.m. on House Bill 206.