CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a sweeping Republican education proposal Wednesday that would allow the state’s first charter schools.
Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled chamber passed the bill on a vote of 51-47. It now moves to the Senate.
The approval came after about nine hours of familiar debate on the bill that has characterized the legislature’s special session on education. On one side, Democrats and teachers unions have repeatedly railed against efforts to install charters in the state as a move driven by outside interests that will steer money away from public schools.
“There is no hue and cry in the land for charter schools,” said Del. John Doyle, a Democrat. “It’s just simply unpopular.”
On the other, Republicans argued that the state’s poor test scores demand a change in the education system.
“Let’s bring our students up, our schools up, let’s offer public charter schools,” said Republican Del. Eric Householder.
The proposal allows for a staggered implementation of charter schools, limiting the state to three charters until 2023 then letting three more go up every three years after that. County education boards would authorize the charters.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, a Republican who has led the push for charters, said he doesn’t like the House bill’s limits on the number of charter schools. He stopped short of spelling out his plans for the measure. A similar, wide-ranging bill Carmichael sponsored sparked massive teacher protests at the Capitol this month.
Earlier Wednesday, the House held a public hearing on the proposal. Few lawmakers showed up.
Teachers and parents were each given 60 seconds to speak, and many of them were cut off mid-sentence as they reiterated concerns that have come up repeatedly during the legislative push for charter schools. Some stressed that students need more counselors to help them deal with parents who are addicted to opioids. Others suggested lawmakers were doing the bidding of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos rather than listening to West Virginians. Many said the hearing was pointless because lawmakers have been ignoring what teachers want.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice called the special legislative session after lawmakers failed to agree on education measures following a teacher strike during the regular session.
Educators in West Virginia took to the picket line in February over another complex education bill that tied a pay raise in with the formation of charter schools. They protested outside schools and packed the state Capitol during the two-day walkout, arguing that the bill was retaliation for last year’s nine-day strike over pay raises and health insurance, which kicked off a national wave of teacher unrest.
Before lawmakers reconvened earlier this month, public forums on education were held statewide, at the end of which the Department of Education released a report saying 88 percent of people who answered a comment card at the meetings opposed the creation of charters. A least one Republican questioned the accuracy of that data Wednesday.