Ahead of debate, Senate leader boosts GOP education plan

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The leader of the West Virginia Senate on Thursday boosted his broad-based education proposal ahead of the special legislative session debate.
GOP Senate President Mitch Carmichael urged support of his plan at a press conference, holding up signs that detailed West Virginia’s near last rankings in SAT scores and other education benchmarks.
“There is no way to defend this system,” he said at a press conference. “It is past time to act.”
The lengthy Senate Republican proposal allows for charter schools but doesn’t include education vouchers, both of which are opposed by unions and were part of another wide-ranging bill that caused a two-day teacher strike earlier this year.
The legislation also contains a pay raise for teachers, mental health services for students and a provision that would withhold pay for teachers if a school is closed because of a strike.
Carmichael, who pushed hard for the vouchers during the regular session, said they will be proposed in a separate bill when the Senate reconvenes Saturday.
Fred Albert, president of the West Virginia chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said educators plan to show up at the Capitol when the Senate meets. He said a recent Department of Education report that came at the end of a series of public forums didn’t push for charters or the vouchers and questioned the resurrection of those measures.
“If he’s listening to the report and the citizens, then we wouldn’t have charter schools in this bill,” Albert said. “The citizens of West Virginia spoke, and that’s not what they wanted.”
Republican Gov. Jim Justice called the special session after the legislature failed to agree on education measures in the wake of the two-day teacher strike. He issued a statement supporting the Senate GOP education bill after it was released, saying “I applaud the state Senate for making a significant move in attempting to create a bipartisan approach to education betterment.”
Carmichael has said he wants the Senate to pass the proposals in a single day, suspending a rule that requires bills to be read over the course of three days.
Separately, House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw on Thursday issued a call for delegates to reconvene June 17. A House spokesman said they would then start working on their own bills as well as any proposals passed by the Senate.