Trump, Sanders wade into West Virginia education reform

CHARLESTON — The president of the United States and a candidate seeking to face him in 2020 both weighed in on the education reform efforts in the West Virginia Legislature.

President Donald Trump tweeted a vague expression of support Monday for the state’s schools and Gov. Jim Justice, who called the special session on education betterment.

“One size doesn’t fit all – I support West Virginia Schools. Keep up the great work, @WVGovernor Big Jim Justice – I am with you!”

Trump was retweeting Justice, who posted about a conversation the two had about education. Justice, who won election in 2016 as a Democrat, switched his party registration in August 2017 at a rally with Trump in Huntington. Several Trump campaign veterans are also on board as Justice campaign staffers for 2020.

“Just had a great conversation with @realDonaldTrump,” Justice said on Twitter. “We talked about our good public schools in WV and how he totally supports my plan for WV public schools. The President and I are bound at the hip, and he has done remarkable work that has been tremendously beneficial for WV!”

Trump, who is running for a second term in 2020, wasn’t the only presidential candidate to shine a light on West Virginia’s special session. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., used his campaign website to encourage supporters to rally at the State Capitol Building on Monday morning to oppose efforts to pass legislation including charter schools or education savings accounts.

“Republican legislators in West Virginia have called a special legislative session to impose school privatization and to further criminalize striking after educators led successful statewide strikes in 2018 and 2019,” according to the post. “Teachers and other school workers are coming from all across the state to make their voices heard at the capitol. Join educators in WV as they fight for their rights — and for the rights of all students to receive quality public education.”

State Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, used the opportunity Sanders presented to strike at the presidential candidate and Justice. The governor and Carmichael — who holds the honorary title of lieutenant governor — have been openly feuding since the Senate passed the Student Success Act on June 3. Carmichael and 17 Republican senators support unlimited charter schools, education savings accounts, removing seniority as the sole consideration in hiring or firing teachers, and strict anti-strike regulations.

“Instead of working to support student success in West Virginia, Sanders has sided with union bosses and Governor Justice to oppose student success in West Virginia,” Carmichael said in an emailed statement through the West Virginia Republican Senate Committee, a political action committee.

“They created the education system that has failed our students for decades and they are fine sitting by watching as our children fall farther and farther behind the rest of the nation,” Carmichael continued. “It’s sad that they value their own power more than our children.”

Monday afternoon, a select committee of the House of Delegates introduced a replacement for the Student Success Act that limits the number of charter schools to 10 and removed anti-strike language. Another committee introduced a bill replacing education savings accounts with a $3,000 tax break for educational expenses for parents, such as private or home schooling.