Amendments to bill debated

CHARLESTON — Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates spent Wednesday evening debating multiple amendments to their answer to the Senate’s Student Success Act after hearing from the public earlier in the day.

At press time, the House was still debating House Bill 206, the 144-page bill that replaced Senate Bill 1039, the 142-page Student Success Act that passed the Senate on June 3.

For nearly six hours during Wednesday’s floor session, delegates considered 22 amendments to HB 206 and adopted 15.

An amendment from House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, changed the 10-school charter cap in the House bill to a limit of three charter schools by 2023 and three more every three years after that. Espinosa said the amendment was a compromise between the House, the Senate and Gov. Jim Justice.

“This proposed amendment was drafted in consultation with our Senate colleagues as well as the governor’s office,” Espinosa said. “(Justice) certainly made it very clear he wanted a more gradual, measured approach to the possible authorization of local school boards of charter schools. I think this proposal…does just that.”

House Democrats, generally opposed to any charter school provision, called the amendment a ruse that could allow potentially unlimited charter schools.

“I believe this amendment to be a smokescreen,” said Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson. “If we were to allow charter schools, there probably wouldn’t be more than three or four in years. If we have a limit of 10, that sets a limit of 10. This sets, it sounds like to me, an unlimited number. An amendment that seeks to assuage the governor who has said he doesn’t want charter schools is actually giving his excellency more charter schools.”

“I just have a problem with unchecked growth of parasitic infestations,” said Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph.

The House Wednesday morning held a public hearing on HB 206. The two-hour public hearing, mostly made up of teachers and activists opposed to charter schools and changes to teacher hiring and firing procedures in the bill, also drew a handful of people supportive of increased school choice options.

“I don’t care about posters and slogans and chants. I care about my son’s success in life” said Doug Douglas. “I think I’m part of the silent majority in this state that wants to see some initiatives taken and some progressive education reform. If you all think the status quo is fine, then just throw more money at the problem. If you think a change is needed, then you need to make some changes here.”

Teachers have been adamant in their opposition to charter schools, including walking out for two days in February to make their feelings known on a bill that died during the 2019 regular session that would have created a public charter school pilot.

“Charter schools do not improve student outcomes,” said Jenny Craig, president of the Ohio County Education Association and a special education teacher. “The people of West Virginia have spoken. The halls of the people’s house is once again filled with teachers and service personnel with such a commitment for our students that we’re willing to give up a much-needed pay raise.”

HB 206 includes a 5 percent pay raise for teachers and school service personnel, $24 million for increased mental health services in schools, and provisions to increase more funding for county school systems and give them more flexibility from state rules and regulations. It expands the West Virginia National Guard Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy, allows for open enrollment between counties and tightens school attendance regulations.

It increases pay for math teachers, frees counties to pay more to fill high-need teaching positions, offers a bonus to teachers for using less than four days of leave and gives a $200 increase for teachers and librarians for classroom supplies. It also makes changes to scholarships for teachers in math and special needs as long as they work in the state for two years.

The House also passed nine other bills Wednesday dealing with different aspects of education reform. These bills include House Bills 161, 162 and 163 that would remove outdated, redundant and expired education rules and regulations. HB 158 would provide for student accountability for the results of the statewide comprehensive assessment program. HB 174 would help expand innovation zones – public schools that are free from certain education rules and regulations. HB 192 would eliminate certain fees for teaching certifications.

The Senate will consider all bills passed Wednesday when the body resumes the special session at a later date.