Updated Monday, June 3, 2019 at 1:40 p.m.
The West Virginia Senate has passed a complex and controversial education reform bill that contains anti-strike provisions that say teachers can be fired for walking off the job and allows for the state’s first charter schools. The upper chamber also passed a measure creating education savings accounts, another controversial issue touted by majority Republicans.
Senate Bill 1039, also known as the “Student Success Act,” cleared the upper chamber Monday on an 18-15 vote, with Republican Sen. Bill Hamilton (Upshur) and Sen. Kenny Mann (Monroe) joining Democrats in opposing the measure.
The Republican proposal ties school employee pay raises, mental health services for students and more administrative flexibility on the county level to provisions public educators say are attacks on their profession.
Teachers, service personnel and the leaders of their unions have opposed charter schools, a change to how layoffs would be considered and provisions that codify consequences for going on strike.
Gov. Jim Justice called a special session back on education in March -- before the end of the regular session. He told reporters Sunday he wished the 142-page bill would be broken up into multiple proposals.
Senate Democrats, who introduced eight bills of their own to address public education, have called the bill retaliation for teachers going on strike twice since the beginning of 2018.
Senators also approved Senate Bill 1040 on Monday. It would create education savings accounts -- a voucher-like program that allows for public funds to be used in a private setting. The measure passed on a 18-15 vote, with Hamilton and Mann again breaking from the majority Republicans.
Republicans say the bill offers parents more options in getting an education that works for individual students. Democrats argue the voucher program would be susceptible to fraud and could allow for private schools to discriminate against students.
Both the omnibus reform measure and the education savings accounts bill now head to the House of Delegates, which is scheduled to reconvene June 17.