EDUCATION BATTLE

Photos courtesy of W.Va. Legislative Photography Teachers and school personnel cheer after the house voted 53-45 to postpone indefinitely action on Senate Bill 451, the education omnibus bill.

CHARLESTON –With a loud cheer and applause by teachers from the galleries Tuesday, the House of Delegate killed the state Senate ‘s massive education reform package.

The house voted 53-45 Tuesday morning to postpone indefinitely any action on the senate amendment to Senate Bill 451, the education omnibus bill, which would have restored a limited number of education savings accounts and expanded the number of public charter schools.

The house took up the message that the senate amended SB 451, but House Minority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, moved to indefinitely postpone the bill. A motion to postpone consideration of the bill until 4 p.m. by House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, failed.

“We need to vote green right now,” Caputo said. “We need to kill this bill right now. We need to get (teachers) back in the classroom and, more importantly, get our kids back in the classroom. I’m willing to discuss every part of that omnibus, but it shouldn’t be held hostage in a bill of that magnitude.”

House Minority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, cautioned delegates against giving up on perfecting the bill, saying that they should work with the senate in a conference committee.

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, speaks with House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, during the debate on SB 451.

“Certainly, we can sit down with our senate colleagues and bridge that small gap that remains and retain all of those critical provisions which, I’m convinced, will help our students across West Virginia.,” Espinosa said.

House Education Committee Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, said allowing the bill to die instead of going into conference committee with the senate would be tantamount to quitting.

“If we’re unwilling to go forward to a conference committee to compromise on a piece of legislation that is one of the forefronts of the senate’s agenda, then we might as well just adjourn…and forget the rest of session,” Hamrick said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, has pushed SB 451 from the very beginning. According to Carmichael, senate leaders had a deal with the house Republican caucus that would have gotten the bill a 52-vote majority.

“It’s disappointing that the representatives of the people of West Virginia as comprised by the House of Delegates would not embrace fundamental, comprehensive education reform that is obviously by anyone’s definition needed,” Carmichael said. “One’s word is all you have in this building. You need to honor your word.”

The senate amended SB 451 Monday after the house passed the bill last Thursday. The senate amendment returned the public charter school program from a pilot project to a permanent program. The updated law allowed for a maximum of seven schools with two schools allowed per year.

The senate restored language creating education savings accounts to the bill, dropping the number of first-come-first-serve accounts from 2,500 to 1,000. ESA’s would have only been available to parents of special needs students or students who are victims of harassment and bullying.

Shortly before the senate voted on the amended SB 451 Monday, the three major teachers and school service personnel unions announced a statewide strike that started Tuesday. School was canceled every county in the state but Putnam County, though buses didn’t run and teachers picketed schools throughout the county.

Teachers and staff picketed all across the state, but hundreds of union members traveled to Charleston Tuesday to rally outside the chambers of the house and senate. Leaders of the two unions representing teachers were thrilled by the house vote.

“It was a good reaction because they were deliberate in what they did,” said AFT-WV President Fred Albert. “They listened to their members. They listened to their constituents, and they heard loud and clear that this was wrong. The house ended up listening to West Virginia voices instead of out-of-state voices.”

Dale Lee, president of the WVEA said one word came to mind after the house vote.

“Elation,” Lee said. “The house put the interests of all children of West Virginia and all teachers and service professionals above the out-of-state special interests that Mitch Carmichael and the senate did.”

Carmichael said he remained optimistic that some of the proposals in the education omnibus bill could

“I’m disappointed, but not defeated,” Carmichael said. “This system we have today isn’t working. We’re better than last and unfortunately today, the champions of the status quo won. But that will not stop progress. They’re on the wrong side of history…it’s not the end.”

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