CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A multi-pronged education bill opposed by West Virginia teachers’ unions passed the House of Delegates on Thursday after lengthy debate.
The House voted 71-29 to endorse a watered down version of the bill passed last week by the Senate.
The hottest debate has been over the establishment of charter schools, whose proponents say it would give parents more school choices. Charters school laws have been enacted in 43 states and Washington, D.C. The Senate version would establish charter schools statewide. The House version would limit them to one each in Cabell and Kanawha counties.
Teachers’ unions have called the legislation payback for a nine-day strike last year and have authorized another statewide action, if necessary.
The unions warmed up to the House version but noted the bill now goes back to the Senate, which must decide whether to accept the significant changes. If the Senate rejects it, the bill would go before a conference committee.
“If we can do something for the kids, for that reason alone I support this bill,” said Republican Delegate Daniel Linville of Cabell County.
Unlike the Senate bill, the House version does not include education savings accounts for families to pay for private school, language withholding teacher pay in the event of a strike or a requirement that teachers sign off annually on union dues. It also removed a clause that would invalidate the entire legislation if any part is struck down.
The House also added provisions to add police officers in every school and give $1,000 bonuses to teachers who miss four or fewer days of work each school year. The Senate version calls for $500 bonuses.
Both versions also would add hundreds of school support personnel, including counselors and nurses, and allow county boards of education to increase property tax levy rates, which would first require voter approval. Teachers who won 5 percent pay raises after last year’s strike would get another 5 percent raise under the bill.
Opponent Joe Canestraro, a Marshall County Democrat, said teachers, principals and county superintendents were not consulted in the bill “and that bothers me. No amount of sugar can be added to this medicine to make me take it.”
The state Board of Education on Thursday endorsed the House version. The board previously recommended breaking up the bill’s components into separate bills.