Education bill heads for final Senate vote

February 2, 2019

CHARLESTON — West Virginia Senate Republicans shot down all Senate Democrats’ proposed amendments to the broad education overhaul bill Friday, and a final Senate vote is set for Monday, Feb. 4.

Democrats’ failed proposals included one to remove the legalization of charter schools, one to nix providing public money for private-, online-and home-schooling, and one to remove a nonseverability clause that could rescind the bill’s 5 percent pay raises for school workers and everything else in it if any of the many other provisions are later overturned in court.

Democrats’ final failed amendment would’ve pared down the bill (SB451) to only grant the 5 percent raises.

Just as happened Thursday, when Republicans voted the bill out of committee and past first reading on the Senate floor, Republican Sens. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, and Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, voted with all 14 Democrats for each of their proposals while the wall of the 18 other Republicans continued to hold firm.

Republicans did approve amendments offered by their own.

Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, successfully proposed requiring county boards of education to get voters’ approval in order to increase their regular levy property tax rates.

School boards currently can’t raise their regular levy rates at all because the Legislature sets them at the same rate statewide. The introduced version of the bill would’ve

newly allowed the boards to increase these rates to a maximum set in the bill without submitting the issue to voters.

Friday’s amendment means the bill would now require voters to sign off on boards’ proposed regular levy increases, just like they’re currently required to sign off when boards seek to increase their excess levy property tax rates.

Amy Willard, executive director of the state Department of Education’s Office of School Finance, said counties would raise $100 million more for education next school year if each one raised its regular levy rate to the maximum.

Among other things, the legislation also would allow boards to reduce the role years of experience play in which employees they can lay off and transfer to other jobs. Boards would be able to make these decisions based on qualifications they choose.

Republicans preserved this Friday, but amended in a provision, proposed by Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, that boards couldn’t consider employees’ salaries when making layoff and transfer decisions.

The GOP has been proposing a provision to encourage classroom teachers to not use all their leave days, but Republicans changed the provision again Friday. Now it’s a proposed $500 bonus at the end of each school year for those who are absent for no more than four days.

Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, successfully proposed that amendment and one that now says students whose household income, including of themselves and their parents, is over $150,000 annually couldn’t receive the private-, online-and home-school vouchers, called education savings accounts.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, successfully amended the bill to say charter school students would no longer be eligible to participate in public school extracurricular activities not offered at the charter school.

Friday’s debate on amendments lasted from 1:30 to 6 p.m.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, proposed the amendment to remove the non-severability clause.

“There’s no reason to throw the entire thing away because one thing may be challenged,” Palumbo said. ”... I think it’s attempting to discourage any challenge.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, had previously spoken in favor of the bill’s adding of millions of dollars more for public school systems, albeit in an unequal manner favoring property rich counties.

On Friday, Trump criticized part of the landmark Recht Decision, which helped equalize school funding between poor and rich counties, and told Palumbo the nonseverability clause is a “shield from activist judicial intervention.”

“The senator from Morgan gave a very polished defense of an unconscionable provision,” Palumbo replied, noting one part of the bill being overturned shouldn’t cancel things like its estimated funds for 400 more school-support workers, like social workers and counselors, statewide.

Before the amendment debate began, state school worker unions had said they’re holding a vote on an unspecified statewide action “if circumstances merit” regarding the bill. At the end of Friday’s debate, #55, a reference to the “55 United” slogan of last year’s strike, was written in the snow outside a main state Capitol entrance.

Reach Ryan Qulnn at ryan. qulnn@wvgazettemall.com, facebook.com/ryanedwlnquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @Ryan-EQuInn on Twitter.

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