UPDATE: W.Va. House members to return for special session

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP, WTAP, WSAZ) - Update: 7/15/2019 2:11 P.M.

Wood County Delegate John Kelly tells us he expects the House to reconvene in special session July 22, before adjourning altogether.

Kelly does not expect any additional business to be taken up prior to adjournment.



UPDATE: 7/11/2019

It's a "wait and see" reaction by local lawmakers, to Wednesday's announcement by West Virginia teacher groups of an intent to file a lawsuit against the education bill the legislature approved in June.

The West Virginia Education Association says the bill approved by the Republican-led House and Senate is unconstitutional.

It includes several elements, including establishment of school systems and a 5% teacher pay raise. But the WVEA argues that, by law, those issues need to be passed in separate bills.

"Putting charter schools in with this bill; this really needed to come out and be run on a separate bill on its own merit," Wood County Education Association President Bruce Boston said Thursday. "It establishes a separate governing board, and changes a lot of things in state code."

"Attorneys that have looked at it have a contrary opinion that it's fine," argues Sen. Mike Azinger, a big supporter of the bill, particularly its charter schools provision, "it's constitutional. I think what the rub is, is the charter schools."

Delegate Vernon Criss told us the legislature during previous administrations passed similar types of education bills, with no outside opposition.

Governor Jim Justice signed the bill into law four days after its final passage.


UPDATE: 7/10/2019

A West Virginia teachers union says it plans to sue over a sweeping GOP education bill that allows the creation of the state's first charter schools.

The West Virginia Education Association released a statement Wednesday saying it has sent the attorney general a formal intent to sue letter that alleges the legislation violates the state constitution.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice signed the measure late last month after a gridlocked special session drew several heavy protests from teachers.

The broad-based measure deals with several aspects of the state's education system, but educators and Democrats fiercely opposed the provision to allow charters. They argued that charters would end up steering money away from public schools.

Neither a House of Delegates spokesman nor a spokesman for Justice returned voicemails seeking comment.


6/28/19 5:20 P.M.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a highly debated education bill on Friday.

The state Senate approved House Bill 206, which allows the creation of charter schools, on Monday. It passed the House on June 19.

A news release from the governor's office said the bill was designed "for the betterment of children, teachers, and the entire education community."

“Looking at the bill in its entirety – with all of its many, many great pieces that help our children and our teachers – there is truly so much good that will benefit teachers, students, and all West Virginians,” Justice said. “I am really pleased with where we got to at the end of the day and I commend the Senate and the House for working with me to come to a compromise that will result in a big win for the entire education community and all West Virginians.”

In a statement released after the signing, Senate President Mitch Carmichael , R-Jackson County, thanked Justice "for choosing the students" of West Virginia.

"The Senate has been a strong advocate for comprehensive education reform from the beginning, and this bill is a positive first step," he said. "I believe that West Virginia’s children, teachers, and families are as gifted and talented as any in the world. These changes will help provide the world-class education our students deserve, and it will give our teachers and counties the local control they want and need. I am excited to see what the future holds for our great state and our schools.”

The educatin bill was among 23 passed during the recent special legislative
session that Justice signed on Friday. Those include:

- SB 1015 - Supplemental appropriation to Secretary of State, General Administrative Fees Account

- SB 1017 - Supplemental appropriation to Department of Arts, Culture, and History, Educational Broadcasting Authority

- SB 1020 - Supplementing and amending Chapter 31, Acts of the Legislature, 2019, known as Budget Bill

- SB 1021 - Decreasing existing appropriation and adding appropriation to Department of Veterans' Assistance

- SB 1023 - Supplementing, amending, increasing, and adding items of appropriations to Attorney General, Consolidated Federal Fund

- SB 1024 - Supplemental appropriation to Department of Agriculture Capital Improvements Fund

- SB 1025 - Supplemental appropriation to DHHR, Division of Human Services for fiscal year ending June 30, 2019

- SB 1027 - Adding new items and increasing existing items to various accounts

- SB 1038 - Supplemental appropriation to DHHR, Division of Health's Central Office

- HB 113 - Establishing tax incentive for new business activity in qualified opportunity zones

- HB 144 - West Virginia Business Ready Sites Program

- HB 146 - Establishing and funding of substance use disorder treatment and recovery facilities

- HB 148 - Making a supplementary appropriation to the Executive, Governor’s Office

- HB 149 - Making a supplementary appropriation to the Executive, Governor’s Office, Civil Contingent Fund

- HB 150 - Making a supplementary appropriation to the Department of Revenue, Office of the Secretary, Home Rule Board Operations Fund

- HB 151 - Making a supplementary appropriation to the Department of Arts, Culture and History, Division of Culture and History, Lottery Education Fund

- HB 152 - Making a supplementary appropriation by adding a new item and increasing the expenditure to the Department of Revenue, State Budget Office

- HB 153 - Making a supplementary appropriation to the Department of Health and Human Resources, Division of Health, Central Office

- HB 154 - Making a supplementary appropriation to the Department of Transportation, Division of Highways

- HB 155 - Supplementing, amending and increasing an item from the State Road Fund to the Department of Transportation, Division of Highways

- HB 156 - Making a supplementary appropriation to the Department of Environmental Protection, Division of Environmental Protection

- HB 157 - Making a supplementary appropriation to the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management


6/25/19

The issue was debated right up to the final vote.

Lawmakers opposed to charter schools offered an amendment to the bill eliminating them from the final piece of legislation that will go to the governor.

"It still remains a for-profit situation at the expense of public education," said Sen. Richard Lindsay, Democrat, Kanawha County, a supporter of the amendment.

Sen, Patricia Rucker, Republican, Senate Education Committee Chairwoman, countered, "It allows for contracting out of services, and it is all non-profit."

That amendment failed, along with seven others proposed, mostly by the same senators.

But charters aren't the only issue that's brought opposition from both House and Senate Democrats and teacher groups.

Another is the addition in the bill of a provision allowing for the dismissal of teachers who have back-to-back poor evaluations.

"It's always been there. It just hasn't been in the RiF and transfer section, under the evaluation portion of the West Virginia state code," Bruce Boston, President, Wood County Education Association explains. "So we've had that, if the state code had been followed. But we've now put in the RIF and transfer and add another part to get through."

Sen. Mike Azinger (R-Wood County) said the provision was to promote teacher accountability.

In both houses, it was majority Republicans who got the comprehensive bill passed. Boston says now, teachers will look to change the bill-and possibly the legislature itself-in 2020.


6/24/2019

The West Virginia Senate has passed a sweeping GOP education bill that would allow the state's first charter schools.

The Republican-controlled chamber approved the proposal Monday. A similar Senate bill had sparked massive teacher protests at the state Capitol. It now goes to Gov. Jim Justice, who supports the measure.

The wide-ranging proposal would allow for a staggered implementation of charter schools, limiting the state to three charters until 2023 then letting three more go up every three years after that. It also contains a pay raise for teachers.

The House passed the bill last week.

Teacher unions and Democrats have opposed the charter school effort, saying it's a move driven by outside interests that will steer money away from public schools.

Republicans have pointed to poor test scores as reason to change the education system.

(Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)


UPDATE: 6/21/19 5:30 P.M.

The West Virginia Senate is expected to begin discussions on a House-passed omnibus education bill when it reconvenes a special session at 5 p.m. Monday.

Among other things, House Bill 206 would allow for a staggered implementation of charter schools, limiting the state to three charters until 2023 and allowing three more every three years after that.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice has tweeted support for the bill, calling it a "major step toward building new opportunities for our children."


UPDATE: 6/20/2019 3:30 P.M.

The two West Virginia Senators representing Wood County believe the Senate will approve a House-passed comprehensive education bill, that's changed from one the Senate approved earlier this month, and that Governor Jim Justice will sign it into law.

"It wasn't as good of a bill as what came out of the Senate," said Republican Senator Mike Azinger. "But you have to commend the leadership of the House, and the delegates over there, for sending us a good bill."

Wood County Education Association President Bruce Boston said, however, he doubts the Senate will go along with the House changes.

"I don't think the Senate is going to approve it the way the House has put it through. I think they're going to return an unlimited number of charters, and it will wind up in a conference committee. From there, we could wind up with it just not going anywhere."

Governor Justice told our sister station, WSAZ, he would sign the House measure, calling it "A really good bill".

Senator Donna Boley told us she doesn't agree with claims from teacher groups and Democrats, that charter schools would direct money away from public schools.

Boley, who, along with Azinger, took part in a conference call Thursday morning with Senate leaders, believes the Senate will take up the bill as soon as next week.


Update 6/20/19 2:20 a.m.

West Virginia House Members voted Wednesday night to pass House Bill 206, the omnibus education bill.

The vote passed 51 to 47.

The plan would allow the state's first charter schools.

Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled chamber approved the measure late Wednesday. The proposal now moves to the Senate.

The bill allows for a staggered implementation of charter schools, limiting the state to three charters until 2023 then letting three more go up every three years after that. County education boards would authorize the charters.

Democrats have repeatedly railed against efforts to install charters in the state as a move driven by outside interests that'll end up steering money away from public schools.

Teachers filled the chamber's galleries to oppose the bill.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice called the special legislative session after lawmakers failed to agree on education earlier this year.

In a series of tweets late Wednesday night Gov. Jim Justice (R) said:

"I’m thrilled that the @wvhouse took a major step toward building new opportunities for our children. #WV #WVGov"

His next tweet said:

"I’ve said from day one that education needs to be our centerpiece here in WV because it’s truly the key to driving our economy and unlocking our potential. Today all of us should be proud with the progress we’re making towards helping our children and our education community."

A spokeswoman for the West Virginia Senate tweeted shortly after the bill was passed that as of 11:26 Wednesday night it was not clear when the senate would reconvene. She said that information will be announced as soon as possible once the details are ironed out which she is hoping happens Thursday.



Update 6/18/2019

A vote by the full West Virginia House is set for Wednesday, on the House of Delegates version of a comprehensive education bill.

Lawmakers Tuesday advanced the plan to allow the state's first charter schools.

If approved, it would head for consideration to the full Senate, which passed its own version earlier this month.

Delegate John Kelly, who serves on the House Education Committee, cautions there's a long way to go before a final bill is approved.

"We're very early in the process right now," Kelly said Tuesday. "It's not going to be something that's going to be resolved tomorrow. It's not going to be resolved by the end of the week. We still have a long process that we still have to go."


Update: 6/17/2019

President Donald Trump has tweeted support for West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice as state lawmakers wrangle over education policy. Trump on Monday boosted the Republican governor, writing "One size doesn't fit all - I support West Virginia Schools. Keep up the great work, WVGovernor Big Jim Justice - I am with you!" Justice has publicly feuded with GOP leaders of the Senate over a sweeping education bill that would allow the state's first charter schools.


6/17/2019 7:30 P.M.

With United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts encouraging them, union members showed their support for the state's teachers.

That, as the legislature continues trying to work out a comprehensive education bill.

The House version has some modifications in provisions for charter schools, but teachers remain opposed.

"It might work in a huge area, large cities and stuff, but the way we're set up, it's not going to flow," says Boone County teacher Craig Bratcher. "When they start taking money off the public schools in West Virginia to open these charter schools, it's going to be that much more of a problem for the schools that's already established."

Under the current House legislation, charter schools would be capped at 10 statewide. Union leaders who spoke at a noontime rally at the capital believe it should be zero.

More than any others, two names were mentioned the most at the teachers rally. One was U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVoss. The other was West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael.

"We might not have the money that Betsy DeVoss has, or the Koch brothers," said Fred Albert, President, West Virginia Federation of Teachers, speaking at the rally. "But we have people power, and people power can change the world."

People who have called for a halt to the special session believe education reform action should wait until next year's special session, which takes place during an election year.

The question becomes: what happens if teachers strike to continue their opposition?

"Right now, I feel we still have a lot of public support," said Tyler County teacher Stephanie Suter, "but the more (strikes or walkouts) happen, the more communities won't be more supportive. And I think that's something we're going to have to keep weighing, as this fight goes on in Charleston."

Right now, these rallies are expected to last as long as the House of Delegates stays in session.


6/17/2019

Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates are back at the state capitol in Charleston to take up the issue of education reform.

After strong opposition from teacher groups and two attempts by House members to reject it, the Student Success Act is moving forward.

Several bills involving education reform are under consideration by four special house committees.

The full House is scheduled to return for a full floor session at 6 p.m. Monday.

The leaders of three major education unions in West Virginia held a news conference to express concerns about the complex education bill passed by the state Senate.

Union representatives called for an end to the special session, releasing a poll of 1,500 voters. They hope the omnibus bill will be broken up and voted on separately. They said, "our hope is in the house but not sure if the house is listening."

Last week, House Minority Leader Tim Miley, along with other house Democrats delivered a letter to Gov. Jim Justice, calling the special session a "waste of taxpayer money."

Teacher representatives believe a halt in education discussion will give legislative leadership time to mend fences and thoroughly prepare legislation that will be mutually agreed upon for the 2020 regular session.

One bill being discussed by house lawmakers on Monday would remove the anti-strike provisions of the bill passed by the Senate and would set a cap of 10 authorized and operating charter schools. However, educator groups say they are not interested in charter schools at all. If the bill allows for even one, they will not be in favor of it.

They do hope lawmakers will address other issues such as adding school counselors, school nurses and other wraparound services.

The poll shows 71 percent of West Virginians have heard about the Student Success Act, 62 percent oppose it and 29 percent support it.

The poll was conducted by Change Research. The margin of error is 2.5 percent.

The AFT-WV, WVSSPA, WVEA leaders and special guest UMWA, President Cecil Roberts, are expected to address the crowd at noon on the back West Virginia Capitol steps.