As Legislative Interims Approach, Focus Shifts to Special Session on "Educational Betterment"

The 2019 Interim Committee dates have been formally announced, and legislators will return to Charleston in April (29-30), May (20-21), June (17-18), July (22-23), September (23-24), November (18-19) and December (16-17). 

This year, legislative leadership has chosen to move away from the somewhat traditional format of Sunday through Tuesday meetings in favor of a more focused schedule, similar to interim meetings implemented during Senate President Bill Cole’s tenure. 

As usual, the April Interim Meetings will be more condensed than the other monthly meetings, as the Joint Committee on Government & Finance must formally approve the interim committee dates.  Other committees established by state law – the Commission on Special Investigations, Post Audits Subcommittee and Joint Committee on Flooding – will also meet during the April session. 

While it may not seem like it, state lawmakers are actually in the midst of a special legislative session as we speak.  Governor Jim Justice issued a proclamation on March 6, 2019 to convene the West Virginia Legislature in the First Extraordinary Session of 2019, commencing immediately upon adjournment of the 2019 Regular Session.  The special session has a singular focus:

Relating generally to improving, modifying, and making efficiencies to the state’s public education system and employee compensation.   

Legislators convened the special session shortly after the midnight conclusion of the regular session, and immediately recessed subject to the call of the Senate President and Speaker of the House.  The planned break was to afford legislators with the opportunity to hear from educators and constituents in their districts regarding proposed reforms to the state’s K-12 public education system.

In conjunction with the planned recess, the West Virginia Department of Education held a series of public forums throughout the state to allow stakeholders the opportunity to speak on issues such as school choice, school funding, teacher pay raises and other issues impacting West Virginia’s educational system.  State School Superintendent Dr. Steve Paine notes that almost 2,000 people participated in the forums and that “[o]verwhelmingly there was almost unanimous support for social, emotional supports for students.”  The information will be shared along with survey data of more than 7,000 educators and 500 administrators in a final report to lawmakers prior to the resumption of the special session.

It is anticipated that parts, if not all, of the omnibus education bill (SB 451) passed by the State Senate will be brought up again during the Extraordinary Session, which is expected to resume in late May.  Senate Education Committee Chair Patricia Rucker recently indicated her intent to reintroduce the entirety of the legislation, which was tabled by the House of Delegates during the regular session. 

While much of the controversy surrounding SB 451 focused on its creation of charter schools and education savings accounts in West Virginia, many of the provisions included therein have broad, bipartisan support and are likely to resurface during the special session regardless.  State legislators are also using the legislative recess as an opportunity to scrutinize other education provisions of the West Virginia Code that were not considered during the regular session.     

Ultimately, the question will be how much time lawmakers spend debating some of the more controversial school choice provisions that the State Senate majority has insisted be included in any education reform measure.  President Carmichael indicates that the special session could start in earnest during the May Interim Meetings.  And legislators are up against the clock of the July 1st start to the new fiscal year, at which time any potential pay raises for school teachers and service personnel would need to be authorized for the budget going into effect.