Members of the House of Delegates returned to town this week to begin consideration of potential education reform proposals as part of the continuing special session on education “betterment.”
Lawmakers reconvened nearly two weeks after the State Senate advanced two separate proposals:
- SB 1039 – Dubbed the “Student Success Act,” SB 1039 is an omnibus education reform package that includes, but is not limed to, the following:
- Education expense tax credits for teachers and other school personnel;
- Expansion of the Mountaineer Challenge Academy;
- Establishing a Mountain State Digital Literacy Project;
- Requiring school boards to establish and implement open enrollment policies;
- Giving school districts more flexibility to design instructional days;
- Provisions prohibiting work stoppages, or “strikes,” in public school systems;
- Authorization for charter schools in West Virginia;
- Increasing county allowances for professional student support personnel to increase so-called “wrap around support services;”
- Allowing county boards to receive state aid allowance in the form of block grants exempt from previous expenditure limitations; and,
- Five percent (5%) pay raises for school teachers and service personnel.
- SB 1040 – The Education Savings Account Act: Establishes an educational savings account (“ESA”) program in West Virginia that would give parents the option of using their tax dollars for alternative education expenses such as tutoring, tuition or other qualifying expenses.
Initial attempts to reject both Senate bills were rebuffed on the floor of the House of Delegates, and the bills were referred to two of the Select Committees on Education Reform established by the House earlier this year. However, neither measure gained much traction from there.
As lawmakers considered these and other legislative measures, teachers and school service personnel came to the Capitol in large numbers once again. And West Virginia’s “betterment” session even garnered national attention in the form of social media posts from President Donald Trump and U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.
Ultimately, legislation allowing for the creation of ESAs and similar education tax credits stalled out. SB 1040 was never considered by the House of Delegates, which instead took up HB 168 – establishing the West Virginia Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship program. The legislation, which would have provided tax credits for contributions to certain scholarship-granting organizations, such as private schools, was ultimately parked on the House Calendar.
In place of the Senate’s omnibus education bill, the House of Delegates introduced and worked its own omnibus education reform package – HB 206. Notably, the measure differed from SB 1039 with respect to its allowance of charter schools. While the Senate Bill contemplated an unlimited number of charter schools, HB 206 initially set a cap of ten (10) charter schools in West Virginia before it was amended to allow for the authorization and operation of three charter schools in the first three years, followed by another three charters in 2023, and the authorization of three charters every three years thereafter if desired.
After nearly twelve hours of floor debate, and the adoption of numerous floor amendments, the House passed HB 206 by a vote of 51-47. With an agreement appearing to have been reached on the charter school provision adopted by the House, the State Senate is now expected to move quickly to pass HB 206 in its current form with signature from Governor Jim Justice to follow.
This should bring a close to the lengthy and often contentious special session.