Teachers hold vigil while House refines education bill

February 15, 2019 GMT

CHARLESTON — In a marathon hearing Wednesday, lawmakers spent hours reshaping and preserving aspects of a massive overhaul of the state’s public education system that could come up for a passage vote as soon as Thursday.

Debate began on House Bill 451, commonly referred to as the omnibus education bill, just after noon. As of 7 p.m., debate continued churning onward into the evening.

Delegates offered upwards of 34 amendments, 14 of them coming from one lawmaker alone, Del. Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley.

In a strong-armed rebuke of a central canon of the version of the bill the Senate passed, the House voted down 59-40 an amendment that would have expanded the number of charter schools allowed in the bill from two to six.

“I’m really concerned in a state like West Virginia that has underfunded and underperformed for a lot of reasons, including our

systemic poverty and our lack of education in our state, that these schools would take precious funds away from public schools that we already have,” said Del. Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall.

Del. Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, introduced the amendment to beef up the proposed charter school program. However, several Republicans, many of whom work in public education, voted with Democrats to quash the amendment.

“Why should West Virginia parents, students and communities not have the same options that 44 states and the District of Columbia have to offer to their students?” Espinosa said.

Of 59 Republicans in the chamber, 40 of them voted for the bill.

The House also voted against an amendment to reinstate an education savings account provision into the bill that was removed in committee. It failed 62-37.

A major change the House adopted, as proposed by Del. Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, would require the state to provide for counties the cost of one law enforcement officer per school in the county, minus any federal funds the county already receives for such. He said the net cost will be about $40.5 million per year.

“This is an investment for the safety of our kids,” he said.

The amendment passed 82-17. The vote came one day before the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 students dead.

The chamber also adopted a change boosting an incentive for teachers to miss fewer than four days of school throughout the year from $500 to $1,000.

Proponents of the amendment said the state spends $86 million per year on substitute teachers, and the change would further incentivize teachers from taking sick leave.

Opponents argued the $500 is enough, and that teachers shouldn’t get a bonus for showing up to work since they’re supposed to every day.

“This is a bonus to get people to come to work,” said Del. Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley, in opposition.

The amendment passed 65-33.

There are 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats in the House. However, no votes fell neatly along party lines. Most were more lopsided, and some came as close as a one-vote margin.

Keeping true to the unusual parliamentary journey that has underscored the bill’s time in existence, one amendment repealed a provision that was later reinstated.

Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, proposed removing a provision of the bill that allows county school boards, after obtaining voter approval, to increase their regular levy tax rates up to a maximum spelled out in the bill.

The amendment originally passed on a 50-49 vote (according to a WV MetroNews report, Del. Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, is out recovering from surgery). However, Del. David Kelly, R-Tyler, moved to reconsider the amendment.

In a bipartisan switcharoo, the repealed provision was revived on a 52-47 vote.

Should the bill pass, the House and Senate will need to hash out their different versions in a conference committee before it goes to the governor for consideration.