West Virginia education bill advances as teachers protest

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Republicans in the West Virginia House of Delegates on Monday advanced a sweeping education proposal to allow the state's first charter schools after a similar Senate bill sparked massive teacher protests at the state Capitol.

The measure cleared an early hurdle as lawmakers in the GOP-controlled chamber moved it forward, potentially setting it up for a full vote Wednesday. The bill debuted earlier in the day with its Republican sponsor framing it as a fresh start.

For Democrats, the move appeared to be unexpected. They asked why the House was creating its own wide-ranging bill and questioned how charter schools would work. On the House floor, the concerns were more pointed.

"We've said over and over that we don't want this bill and it's like the Frankenstein bill, it keeps coming back," said Del. Cody Thompson, a Democrat.

The booming chants of teachers in the hall outside the House seeped into the chamber, sometimes forcing lawmakers to raise their voices as they spoke into microphones.

The introduction of the House bill comes after a Senate GOP proposal that has been widely criticized by Democrats and teachers union leaders as essentially the same measure that launched a two-day walkout by educators in February. Teachers also packed the statehouse earlier this month as the Senate passed its bill, which includes a teacher pay raise, mental health services for students and a provision that allows county boards to fire educators who strike.

The House proposal, among other things, would cap the number of charter schools at 10 and doesn't include language prohibiting teacher strikes. The West Virginia Education Association immediately panned the bill, tweeting a call for teachers to ask their delegates to oppose it.

Republican House Speaker Roger Hanshaw dismissed the idea that his chamber's broad-based bill was similar to the Senate proposal.

"I would encourage people to just simply read it. A pretty cursory reading of the bill makes it clear that's not the case," he said, noting the limits on charters.

Fred Albert, president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said the House bill ignores the will of the people.

"It's clear that our delegates are not listening," he said. "They're not listening to the citizens of West Virginia."

President Donald Trump inserted himself into the debate Monday afternoon, tweeting support for the state's Republican governor in a move that drew laughs, as well as confusion, on the House floor.

"One size doesn't fit all - I support West Virginia Schools. Keep up the great work, @WVGovernor Big Jim Justice - I am with you!," Trump tweeted.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice has feuded publicly with Senate leaders over their bill, which has been backed by Trump's education secretary.

Asked what he made of Trump's tweet, Hanshaw said he "wasn't sure that I understood what he said."

Justice called the special session after the legislature failed to agree on education measures before the regular session ended in March. Public forums on education were held statewide, at the end of which the Department of Education released a report questioning the formation of charter schools.


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