Education Legislation Special Session May Begin May 20

By Quinn, Ryan | Sunday Gazette-Mail, April 21, 2019 | Go to article overview

Education Legislation Special Session May Begin May 20


Quinn, Ryan, Sunday Gazette-Mail


WINFIELD - State lawmakers had just listened Thursday to an hour-and-a-half of people telling them what's wrong with West Virginia's education system, or what isn't wrong despite perceptions, and what legislators should do about it.

Democratic senators had already hosted a series of town halls and had attended state Department of Education public forums in different parts of the state. Now, some Democrats were at Thursday's forum, hosted by Republicans who represent Putnam County.

Democratic Sen. Glenn Jeffries, sitting alongside Republicans and Democrats at the old courthouse in Winfield, said he'd now attended about eight forums. Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, said he'd lost count - nine, he ventured - and Delegate Jeff Campbell, D-Greenbrier, said he beat Baldwin by attending 14.

Campbell said he'd heard four common wishes: smaller class sizes; more help from counselors, nurses, psychologists, etc.; less testing; but also more student accountability for what the scores are.

Jeffries, D-Putnam, said he'd heard a pretty consistent message - teachers said they need help.

"They need counselors, they need mental health individuals to help them, they need social workers, and they need the freedom to teach, he said.

Baldwin said, "I've done listening sessions hosted by the [Department of Education], by Democrats, by Republicans, by home-school families, you name it. But at each and every one of those, I hear the exact same message about the same issues.

"I hear people who love their kids and who want to do right by their kids but they feel like their hands are tied behind their backs, Baldwin said. "Whether they're home-school parents or public school teachers.

"The other thing that I hear, time and time again, is there are all sorts of social problems that are coming to school, and until we look at those, what we do at school in terms of policy is not going to make a long-term impact.

Right after the forum, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said "there is very much a consistent theme.

"The wraparound services, the additional staff training and development, as well as compensation, which is all inherent and a component of the bill that we put forth, Carmichael said. "But there's still a lot of misinformation and concern about charter schools and education savings accounts.

Carmichael was referencing Senate Bill 451, also called the education omnibus bill. Senate Republicans tried to rush it through during the regular legislative session, but failed when the also Republican-controlled House of Delegates killed it on the first day of a statewide public school workers strike.

It would have provided tens of millions of dollars more for public education, including things like more school counselors and social workers and higher teacher pay. But it would have also created "school choice programs that could've redirected public school dollars to privately run schools or home schooling.

Carmichael said he plans to again push creating charter schools and ESAs in the special session ordered by Gov. Jim Justice. ESAs provide parents public money to send their kids to private and religious schools, home-school them, or provide them other public education alternatives.

"We're going to be very firm on pursing those options, Carmichael said, adding "obviously, we'll compromise as we do in any legislative environment.

Carmichael said he's aiming to start the session during the May interim legislative meetings.

Those are scheduled for May 20-21. That's shortly before the school year ends in most counties, an issue that could sap power from any new strike that might target charter schools, ESAs or other issues.

Of the timing of the upcoming session, Carmichael said, "We can't put the bill together before we receive the report from the state Board of Education and finish these forums. We're not expecting the report from the state school board until the first of May. …

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