Education stakeholders speak out about education reform

West Virginia Board of Education President Dave Perry, left, and state superintendent Steve Paine, right, during a meeting Wednesday in Charleston. (Chris Jackson/The Register-Herald)

As the West Virginia Legislature continues its special session, education stakeholders spoke Wednesday morning at the West Virginia Board of Education meeting about the ongoing debate on education reform. 

"I come before you today as a very tired man," said West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee. "What I’m tired about is all the attacks on public education. I'm tired of people telling us how bad we are." 

While pushing for charter schools, education savings accounts (ESAs) and more local control, Senate Republicans have criticized the public school system, citing poor achievement statistics in West Virginia and arguing the schools are maintaining the status quo. 

"Let me be clear," Lee said Wednesday. "There is no teacher, no service personnel, no administrator in public education that wants to keep the status quo we keep hearing about. Everyone wants to improve. Everyone wants to reach every child." 

On June 3, the state Senate passed, mostly along party lines, the Student Success Act — another comprehensive education reform bill including the possibility of charter schools, a pay raise for teachers, incentives for teachers who go into certain subject areas, more funding for wraparound services, and more.

In a separate measure, also on June 3, the Senate passed Senate Bill 1040, allowing ESAs.

The House of Delegates is set to reconvene Monday in Charleston, but House Democrats have stepped forward this week calling for an end to the special session. 

“What I oppose strongly is wasting taxpayers’ dollars to come back to a special session, which seems to occur every year now, on issues and items that we should have taken care of during the regular session,” House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said during a Tuesday press conference. “We didn’t, and you shouldn’t waste taxpayers’ dollars pursuing your own agenda in a special session.”

The state Senate had passed a wide-ranging education reform bill, Senate Bill 451, also known as the "omnibus education bill," during the regular Legislative session. Teachers held a two-day walkout as the bill advanced. Ultimately, the House and Senate could not reach an agreement on some of the provisions within the bill, and the House indefinitely postponed a vote on the measure.

Gov. Jim Justice then called for a special session to focus solely on "education betterment."

David Gladkosky, executive director of West Virginia Professional Educators, said during Wednesday's state Board of Education meeting that many members are coming to the organization with questions, particularly concerns about the special session and its process.

"They wonder, 'Why are we repeating a process that first failed us in the regular session?' 'Why weren't all bills introduced in the special session and given equal choice for consideration?'" Gladkosky said. "'Why were the bills not sent to Senate Education?'"

If the special session moves forward, two local delegates have said the provisions of the Student Success Act will be considered individually.

"We fully intend on these issues standing and falling on their own merits — going through debate, committee process and amendment phase," Del. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, told The Register-Herald last week. "I think the House showed folks in this state back in February that while sometimes it appears chaotic, we were very deliberative."

Del. Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, added, "(House) Speaker (Roger) Hanshaw has made it clear to me personally and publicly that it is his intention... to address the education issues as singular objects rather than the Senate's witches brew bill. I have confidence that my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in the House will hold him true to this promise."

Gladkosky emphasized at Wednesday's meeting teachers' desire to see more support for children who've experienced trauma, and their distaste for charter schools. 

"Most members don’t think charter schools can meet needs of West Virginia students," he said. "They're concerned about seeing this go through the same process. I hope if any legislators are listening, they keep that in mind." 

— Email: wholdren@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter @WendyHoldren

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