As teachers roar, GOP fails to expedite education plan

Published: Jun. 1, 2019 at 10:37 PM EDT
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West Virginia Senate Republicans on Saturday failed in their bid to fast-track a sweeping education proposal that would allow the state's first charter schools.

Senators reconvened for the special legislative session to the sound of dozens teachers chanting and cheering both inside and outside the chamber. Within minutes after gaveling in, lawmakers voted down efforts to let the sweeping GOP plan, as well as a separate bill creating education vouchers, circumvent a state Constitutional rule requiring bills to be read over three days.

Republican Senate President Mitch Carmichael has been pushing to expedite the bills so they would have fully passed the GOP-controlled Senate Saturday, saying he wants to save the taxpayer money it would cost to have lawmakers in session for multiple days.

"Are we going as a state to continue to allow this crisis to perpetuate itself?" he said, pointing to a sign that detailed West Virginia's near-last rankings in SAT scores and other education benchmarks.

Democrats argued that the push for charter schools and education vouchers represent the resurrection of a bill that launched a two-day teacher strike across the state this year.

"This is the same script, the same format that was forced down our throats in January of this year," said Sen. Paul Hardesty, a Logan Democrat.

Inside the chamber, teachers clapped after Democrats trashed the bills. Outside, their whoops were so loud that they penetrated the thick, wooden doors of the Senate and could be heard as lawmakers spoke.

The sweeping GOP proposal also includes a teacher pay raise and mental health services for students. Carmichael said he's folded in several Democratic demands into his bill and has called senators back in on Sunday so he can again try to expedite the bill.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice called the special session after the legislature failed to agree on education measures before the regular session ended in March. Public forums on education were held statewide, at the end of which the Department of Education released a report opposing school vouchers and questioning the formation of charter schools.

Fred Albert, president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, told teachers gathered on the steps of the Capitol to continue to make their presence known. In an interview, he seized on a Friday tweet from U.S. education secretary and charter school advocate Betsy DeVos boosting the GOP effort in West Virginia as proof that Republicans were catering to out-of-state interests when it comes to charters and vouchers.

"We still look at it like they're not listening to the citizens of West Virginia," Albert said.