The battle over education reform moves back to the West Virginia House of Delegates Monday, as the House will consider a massive education reform bill passed by the Senate two weeks ago, as well as individual bills on education reform.
As the delegates make their way to the Capitol Complex to gavel in at 8:30 Monday morning, they can expect to be greeted by a sea of red — as teachers and state employees are planning to make their way to the Capitol to ensure their voices are heard.
The debate about education began back in 2018. The walls of the state Capitol shook, as loud demonstrators packed the building, protesting what they felt was unfair pay and lack of stable benefits.
After a nine day strike, teachers and other state employees were promised a pay raise. But the battle was far from over, and the following year the fight became about much more.
During the 2019 Legislative Session, education reform once again became a hot topic. Senate Bill 451, also known as the Omnibus Bill, led teachers and other school service personnel to strike again. While the controversial reform measure did include a 5% pay raise, it also would have paved the way for public charter schools in the Mountain State and would have allowed 1000 students to use educational saving accounts.
Like the year before, teachers packed the galleries in their signature red t-shirts. However, the 2019 strike lasted just two days before the bill was defeated by the House of Delegates.
The state Department of Education hosted seven public forums at local schools across the state. These meetings were backed by Governor Jim Justice, who believed they would enable lawmakers to hear directly from their constituents before heading into the special session on education.
During the 2019 special session that began last month, Senate President Mitch Carmichael introduced a second omnibus bill, the Student Success Act. The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 18 to 15 with 1 person not voting.
One big difference between the Student Success Act and Senate Bill 451 is there are no Education Savings Accounts in the new omnibus bill. ESA’s will be considered by the House in a separate bill passed by the Senate.
Senate Republicans added a measure to ban teacher strikes to their sweeping education proposal, a move criticized as revenge for the high-profile walkouts by educators throughout the last two year.
Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled chambers approved the amendment 17-14 with heavy opposition from Democrats, tacking it on to a broad-based bill that would allow the state’s first charter schools.
The House will reconvene Monday morning at 8:30. According to House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, the House of Delegates will consider both smaller bills and larger bills.