Senate Republicans debut education bill ahead of debate

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Senate Republicans have pitched a broad-based education plan that allows for charter schools but doesn't include vouchers.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael released a lengthy draft of the proposal late Friday and said it's a compromise that folds in many ideas backed by Democrats.

"Nobody gets everything they want," he said.

The legislation includes a pay raise for teachers, mental health services for students and a provision that would withhold pay for teachers if a school is closed because of a strike.

The proposal comes as the GOP-led legislature nears special session debate on education measures. Carmichael said he put out the draft of the bill Friday to give lawmakers time to read it so they can come back next week and propose changes before the Senate reconvenes.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice issued a statement praising the bill.

"I applaud the state Senate for making a significant move in attempting to create a bipartisan approach to education betterment," the governor said.

Democrats, who have already introduced a package of education bills, also sounded hopeful.

"We are encouraged to see the Senate leadership embrace much of our proposed legislation," Senate Democratic Minority Leader Roman Prezioso said in a statement. "We know that our ideas will work, and we are happy they agree. We're very glad to have some common ground to move forward on."

Justice called the special session after the legislature failed to agree on education measures and teachers launched a two-day strike during the regular session.

Educators packed the Capitol and took to the picket line in February over a bill that tied a pay raise to the formation of the state's first charter schools and called for education vouchers that would've helped parents pay for schools. The bill eventually failed but was seen by teachers as retaliation for last year's nine-day strike across West Virginia over raises and health insurance.

Since then, public forums on education have been held and the state Department of Education published a report that recommended policymakers address the impact of the opioid crisis on students and oppose school vouchers called education savings accounts.

Carmichael, who pushed hard for the vouchers during the regular session, said the education savings accounts will be proposed in a separate bill.