West Virginia lawmakers to reconvene next week on education
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia lawmakers will reconvene next week in a special session on education.
House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw and Senate President Mitch Carmichael announced Monday that the special session will resume at 2 p.m. May 20. The brief announcement did not include an agenda or how long the session would last.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice called the special session after the GOP-led Legislature failed to agree on teacher pay raises and other education measures during the regular session that ended in March. Justice ordered lawmakers to go out and seek input from teachers, parents and others before returning. Public forums were held statewide.
Teachers went on a two-day strike in February over a bill that tied their pay raise to the formation of the state's first charter schools and called for education savings accounts that would help parents pay for schools.
Educators who packed the state Capitol argued the bill was retaliation for last year's nine-day strike across West Virginia over pay raises and health insurance. The 2018 strike set off a wave of activism that was followed by Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arizona and other places.
Last week, tens of thousands of teachers across Oregon walked off the job to demand more money for schools. Earlier this month, teachers in North Carolina and South Carolina rallied at their respective state capitols seeking more money.
When West Virginia lawmakers passed the budget in March, they set aside funding for a 5% teachers' raise in an unappropriated line item that will be addressed in the special session.
Carmichael has said he wants comprehensive education changes to improve classroom performances. Union leaders and some lawmakers are concerned the measures that caused the February strike will be addressed again.
Democrats in the Senate released a list of priorities Monday that include six separate bills.
They would reduce funding programs aimed at reducing substance abuse in newborns; place full-time mental health professionals in every school; remove burdensome regulations to innovation zones, local school improvement councils and virtual schools; amend the state aid formula to guarantee that local funds have local control; change alternative education options so counties can meet their unique needs.
Other Senate Democrat priorities include separately studying class sizes and whether to erase student loans for new teachers who remain in West Virginia for five years, increasing classroom supply funds, improving pay and supply funds for teachers and school service personnel, and expanding vocational education to middle schools.
A report released last week by the state Department of Education made numerous recommendations, including that policymakers must address the consequences of poverty and the opioid crisis on students. The report also questioned the formation of charter schools and scoffed at education savings accounts.
The report said education savings accounts should not be implemented due to public concerns over the potential concentration of benefits to higher-income families. If lawmakers authorize the creation of charter schools, they should be limited in number and overseen by the state and local boards of education. For-profit charter schools should be prohibited, it said.
The House will have a new education committee chairman for the session. Republican Paul Espinosa will be chairing the committee on an interim basis. He previously chaired the education committee. Former education committee chairman Del. Danny Hamrick said he was asked to step down last month because he was having a relationship with a female intern. Hamrick is married.