Until this week, West Virginia was one of a handful of states which had never experimented with school privatization. But on Monday night, the West Virginia Senate adopted an omnibus education bill passed a week ago by the West Virginia House of Delegates. Governor Jim Justice has said he will sign the bill. The bill includes a raise for teachers, but it also introduces privately operated charter schools into West Virginia for the first time.
The debate has been long and contentious. It began in February of 2018, when school teachers across the entire state of West Virginia walked out over the conditions in their public schools and their low pay, which has been driving fine teachers out of the profession and away from the state. With that statewide strike, West Virginia’s public school teachers launched the #RedforEd movement that swept across Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Denver, Los Angeles and Oakland.
The 2018, West Virginia teachers’ strike ended when Governor Jim Justice and both houses of the state legislature agreed to a 5 percent raise for the state’s teachers, support staff, bus drivers and West Virginia state troopers.
Then last October (2018), Governor Justice promised West Virginia’s teachers an additional 5 percent raise. In February (2019), the House of Delegates came forward with an omnibus education bill which included the raise. But schoolteachers walked out statewide for the second year in a row to protest the addition of two forms of public school privatization—the introduction of charter schools into the state and the launching of an Education Savings Account neo-voucher program—to the House bill. Finally, the state’s House of Delegates tabled the bill indefinitely, killing the bill. The House of Delegates did pass a stand-alone bill awarding teachers a 5 percent raise, but its implementation awaited action by the West Virginia Senate.
Now, in June, West Virginia’s legislature has been meeting in special session. On June 3, the more conservative Senate passed an omnibus education bill designed to launch charter schools and punish teachers for striking, even as it granted them a raise. The West Virginia Senate also passed a stand-alone bill to establish education savings account neo-vouchers.
In its June special session last week, the West Virginia House of Delegates passed its own version of an omnibus education bill. Teachers, mobilizing once again, protested in the galleries as, after hours of contentious debate, the House provided raises along with introducing charter schools. West Virginia Metro News‘ Brad McElhinny describes the bill the House of Delegates passed on June 19, and sent back to the West Virginia Senate for consideration: “Like previous versions, the bill includes a variety of proposed changes to the education system, including pay raises, charter schools, increased support personnel for schools, open enrollment, incentives to fill in-demand positions and financial support for small or struggling counties… One amendment that was adopted changed the rollout for charter schools. The House bill originally set a limit of 10. The amendment… allows starting with three charter schools and then, after 2023, establishing three more. After that, three more could be established every three years.”
The West Virginia House chose to omit from its the omnibus bill the proposals for two kinds of neo-vouchers which would provide public dollars for students enrolled in private and parochial schools. For the Huntington Herald-Dispatch, Ryan Quinn reports: “House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, also said Wednesday that the House wouldn’t take any action… on a bill that would have given parents money to send their kids to private schools and religious schools… The House also hasn’t moved Senate Bill 1040, which would create “education savings accounts” vouchers that would’ve worked similarly, but also provided parents public money to homeschool their kids.”
West Virginia’s New Omnibus Education Bill
Finally on Monday night of this week, the Senate returned to special session, suspended rules that would have required three full readings of the House of Delegates’ omnibus education bill prior to a vote, considered and voted down some amendments to remove the charter school section, and passed an omnibus education bill.
The Wheeling Intelligencer’s Steven Allen Adams describes what is included in the bill the Senate adopted: “HB 206 includes a number of provisions for increased funding in schools. These include funding counties with smaller student populations at a floor of 1,400 students, increasing the foundation allowance in the student aid formula from 70.25 percent to 71.25 percent, and giving county school boards their state aid share in the form of block grants. Teachers benefit directly from HB 206. It includes the 5 percent average pay raise for teachers and school service personnel — their second 5 percent raise in two years…. salary bumps for math and special education teachers, and allows county boards of education to provide additional compensation for teachers at schools with high turnover or hard to staff subject areas. Teachers would also get a $500 bonus for missing less than four days of leave.”
The bill also permits the establishment of three charter schools in West Virginia, three more in 2023, and three additional charters every three years thereafter.
Governor Jim Justice tweeted a statement in which he pledged to sign the bill into law: “I applaud the
@wvsenate for passing the education bill tonight. This is the correct resolution that aids our teachers, students, and all those in the education community and I look forward to signing it. #WV.”
West Virginia Public Broadcasting adds that the final bill omits the measure the Senate had included earlier in the spring to make teachers’ strikes punishable by law: “The House also avoided addressing the rights of school employees to strike and protest, whereas (in an earlier version) the Senate had amended its bill to include anti-strike provisions that would allow schools to withhold pay or fire employees who strike.”
In a recent editorial, after U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos tweeted: “West Virginia has an opportunity to improve education for all & put the needs of students first,” the Charleston Gazette-Mail commented on the evident impact of pressure from outside the state: “What DeVos, a billionaire with little experience concerning public schools, did was essentially confirm something…. This brand of education overhaul is an out-of-state effort driven by money, not better options for West Virginia kids… It’s been extensively reported this legislation has been shaped by models prepared by the pro-charter American Legislative Exchange Council.”