Reporter’s Notebook: Charleston potpourri
Today the House of Delegates resumes the education special session, breaking into four select committees to consider legislation from its members, the Senate’s Student Success Act and accompanying education savings account bill, and some additional bills.
That’s right, Gov. Jim Justice is introducing education bills of his own. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said this to MetroNews Talkline host Hoppy Kercheval, and the governor told attendees of a Thursday town hall at Bluefield State College as much.
According to sources, think of Justice’s bills as a deconstructed version of the Student Success Act. It will include components of the SSA, but in individual bills instead of one massive omnibus. It will include all the things there appears to be vast agreement on, such as the wrap-around social services, increased funding and flexibility for county school systems, incentive pay for high-need subjects.
What Justice won’t be introducing is the controversial items in the SSA, such as the unlimited charter school provision, the anti-strike provisions, and hiring and firing provisions. It also sounds like the House will work the Student Success Act to limit the number of charters allowed and to remove the other provisions causing controversy.
The question is whether the Senate will go along or pull the same stunt they pulled in February by throwing in amendments that the House can’t digest and the bill dies … again. The difference is this is a special session costing money that otherwise wouldn’t be spent. That doesn’t bug me, but it does bug many others. If we go through all of this only for the Senate to push an all-or-nothing approach and the bill dies, is all this worth it?
Something that has really annoyed me is the attitude, tone and rhetoric of Republican senators and supporters of the Student Success Act. You’d think that with a bill they want to see passed they would attempt tactics meant to bring people on board.
Instead, the message presented is “support the Student Success Act or you’re not a Republican. You’re a union-loving hack.” There is no in between, no grey area. You’re either with this group of people or you’re against them. Heck, even if you agree with them and simply dislike their tactics, then you’re also against them.
I’ve seen some vile comments made against some Republican House members who voted to kill SB 451 in February and who are probably inclined to vote against the Student Success Act as is, with the full unlimited charter school provisions and the anti-strike provisions. I’ve seen threats to primary these lawmakers in 2020. All this for having a difference of opinion.
I feel like a broken record on this, but many of these Republican delegates represent single-member districts, some of which have one high school. These counties rally around their schools, even when the school is performing poorly. In many cases the county school system is the largest employer.
My advice is watch Tyler County, which has had a solid Republican-majority voter registration for years if not decades. If they boot out Delegate David Kelly, R-Tyler, in 2020, I’d be surprised. But if you listened to the vocal supporters of the Student Success Act, you’d think he was a liberal union supporter.
Folks, Kelly voted for the version of SB 451 that the House amended on Valentines Day. That version had a small charter school pilot project. Justice gets the same grief, yet has openly supported a charter pilot project of up to five schools. The Senate needs the support from delegates like Kelly. I’m unsure calling the man a union shill helps. You need Justice to sign the bill. Getting into a daily war of words with the man is not going to make him suddenly support an expansive permanent charter project.
My advice to the Senate is to not listen to the all-or-nothing crowd and accept what the House sends over with minimal tweaks. It’s better to get some charter schools than none at all. The unions will fume if any charters get passed, but that will blow over.
As long as Senate Republicans push for an unaltered SSA, or if they blow up the whole bill — including the teacher and school service personnel pay raise — then I’m going to be very curious to see how 2020 goes. Having President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket doesn’t necessarily mean downstream benefits for other Republican candidates.
Democrats only need to take out three Republican senators to tie the body 17-17. If one of the two Republican senators who have consistently voted with Democrats against the two education reform bills decide to caucus with the Democrats, that’s all it takes for the gavel to transfer to a Democratic Senate president.
The civil war between Justice and Senate Republicans largely started because Justice pointed out a similar scenario during a town hall meeting in Wood County two weeks ago. That obviously didn’t sit well with Senate President Mitch Carmichael and other Senate Republican leaders. I understand that, but there are only so many times one gets to poke a bear with a stick before the bear bites your head off.
Steven Allen Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.