Now that Senate Majority Leader Mitch Carmichael and his minions have wrapped up their end run around all Democratic defenses and the customary manner of advancing legislation, this moment serves as proper warning to citizens that the Republican caucuses in the House and Senate have found a convenient way around whatever roadblock stands in their way.
All of those shortcomings citizens saw in their local schools and spoke of during numerous education town halls in late spring? Well, legislators were prepared to pass much-needed wraparound social services for the students anyway. That wasn’t the reason for the special session.
The leadership’s strategy was clear, though. With school out for the summer, protesting teachers – able to close schools across the state with their strike a year ago this past spring – had lost their leverage.
And Mitch knew it.
An honest legislative sesssion – where a deadline on bills is just that, a deadline – could have handled almost all of what was accomplished in this special session.
In fact, it had.
But the education reform bill lacked the establishment of charter schools that Carmichael had desperately sought. He wasn’t about to give teachers something they wanted (primarily pay raises and wraparound social services) unless he got a piece of the pie that he was eyeing – either charter schools or education savings accounts. Or, preferably, both.
Turns out, the ESAs – which would have pulled monies out of the public school account – were a bridge too far.
Regardless, honest intent took a beating.
Integrity has gone missing in our state politics. We should be able to trust what our politicians tell us. Sadly, we cannot. We are so far from the norm these days that banking on Carmichael and others to do what they promised is a fool’s errand. When Gov. Justice and Carmichael promised 5 percent raises last fall before the regular session in 2019? Did not hear them say one thing at the time about bundling that with a laundry list of Republican initiatives, some of which were downright punitive toward teachers.
Justice failed to show up on the issue all session long, and then this summer acted like little more than a weak-kneed cheerleader for whatever education bill he could sign and claim credit for.
And remember those public hearings held around the state for the expressed purpose of taking the temperature of citizens? To hear what provisions they would like to see in an education reform package? Turns out they were all for show as few participants ever mentioned school choice, ESAs and charters. Their concern was strightforward: Address mental health of our kids, many of whom face daily traumas at homes where the drug addiction has stirred considerable damage. Yes, give teachers badly needed support.
Carmichael may well have said, “Whatever!”
Didn’t matter what citizens of West Virginia wanted. Didn’t matter what the teachers and other education experts had to say.
Mitch was on a mission: Charter schools or bust – regardless.
Instead of debating policy in the spring semester, instead of working across the aisle to produce a promising education bill that addressed the state’s most critical needs, Mitch and his buds simply delayed action – because they knew that a summer recess gave them the opportuity to act without the pressure of teachers shutting down schools.
Time was on their side.
So, congrats, Mitch. You won. But you did so in a way that leaves a stain that won’t wash.