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House Dems seek end of education session

CHARLESTON — Citing the repeat of mistakes made during the regular session and the growing feud between Gov. Jim Justice and Republicans in the Senate, Democrats in the House of Delegates called Tuesday for an end to the special session on education betterment.

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, held a press conference at the Capitol calling on House Republicans to adjourn for good.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, called delegates back to Charleston to resume the special session scheduled to start 8:30 a.m. Monday, coinciding with the start of two-day June legislative interim meetings. Miley hand-delivered a letter to Justice’s Capitol office calling on him to ask Hanshaw to end the special session.

“I call upon you to gather with Speaker Hanshaw and ask the House to adjourn sine die,” Miley wrote. “Doing so will save taxpayer money and give you and the legislative leadership time to mend fences and thoroughly prepare meaningful legislation that may actually be mutually agreed upon for the 2020 regular legislative session.”

Nine education bills have already been introduced in the House, many of which were introduced by House Democrats May 20 when lawmakers fixed and passed legislation vetoed by Justice at the end of the 2019 regular session. That’s not counting the two bills passed by the Senate June 3, the massive Student Success Act and a bill creating an education savings account program.

During the May resumption of the special session, Hanshaw divided the 100-member House of Delegates into four select committees on education reform to consider individual bills as well as any bills passed by the Senate.

The House is where the last attempt by Senate Republicans to reform education in West Virginia failed. Senate Bill 451, the education omnibus bill, contained items both bodies agreed on, such as improved funding for county school systems, increased funding for mental health professionals in schools and incentives for teachers in high-need fields.

But the inclusion of a public charter school provision and education savings accounts doomed the bill after disagreements led to the bill’s death in the House in February.

Senate Bill 1039, the Student Success Act, is another omnibus bill with many of the same provisions as SB 451. However, it includes a provision that gives county school boards final say over authorization of charter schools. The Senate passed a separate bill for education savings accounts — vouchers for parents to use tax dollars for home schooling, private schooling and other educational expenses.

Miley criticized the Senate for again combining multiple proposals into a single, nearly 150-page bill instead of allowing each proposal to be its own bill, which is different than what he said House leadership wanted to do. Miley cited survey data from the state Department of Education showing little support for charter schools.

“Senate President Mitch Carmichael chose to ignore that and do what he wanted to do despite the will and desire of the House and the speaker and despite the will and desire of 88 percent of the people in West Virginia,” Miley said. “It’s like a bill they know the House won’t accept in its current form.”

Miley also cited comments made by Justice on June 2 to members of the Senate’s Republican and Democratic caucuses the day before passage of the Student Success Act and education savings accounts. Justice called on both caucuses to end the special session if it was going to result in another failed bill.

“The governor made his comments very clearly unless he walks back those comments that he does not support the bill passed by the Senate and that the Senate ought to adjourn,” Miley said.

Also citing the frayed relationship between Justice and Senate Republican leadership, Miley called the drama “childlike.” Justice has been critical of the Student Success Act, saying Carmichael, R-Jackson, and other Senate Republicans were digging themselves into a hole by passing the controversial education bills.

Carmichael accused Justice of siding with teachers’ unions while Senate Finance Committee Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, called on the governor to resign over his lack of leadership.

“If we haven’t already, we will soon lose the respect and credibility in the eyes of the people we represent down here,” Miley said. “It’s clear to me we’re not going to get the governor, the Senate president and the speaker of the House on the same page. There’s considerable dysfunction between the leaders of our state. If the governor lives up to what he said very publicly and openly, I expect him to veto a bill if it contains certain things.”

A spokesperson for Hanshaw had no comment, having not spoken with the House speaker about Miley’s comments.

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