West Virginia lawmakers return, shelve education bills

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia lawmakers reconvened a special session Monday but pushed back debate on education proposals that caused a two-day teacher strike earlier this year.

The House of Delegates and the Senate worked instead on budgeting bills or measures that were vetoed for technical reasons.

Legislators were supposed to focus solely on education this week, but Republican Senate President Mitch Carmichael said the GOP is still crafting its proposals. Republicans are expected to push for charter schools and school vouchers, which drew strong opposition from educators and led to the strike in February.

Democrats had their education bills sidelined in the GOP-controlled legislature Monday.

"We are disappointed, but not surprised," said Democratic Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso. "We put in the effort to come up with good, reasonable ideas that will improve education in our state. It's a pity that the Republicans won't read them."

The Republican leadership has signaled that education legislation will be taken up in June, a move that the leaders of teachers' unions say could be a bid to negate the impact of another strike.

Teachers launched their two-day walkout over a bill that tied a 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. The bill eventually failed but was seen by educators as retaliation for last year's nine-day strike across West Virginia over raises and health insurance.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice called the special session after the legislature failed to agree on education measures before the regular session ended in March. He ordered lawmakers to go out and seek input from teachers and parents before returning. Public forums on education were held statewide.

Union leaders representing teachers and school service workers have called for the extra session to be canceled if lawmakers are going to resurrect the same proposals that caused the strike earlier this year.

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