CHARLESTON — After two hours of debate Monday, the West Virginia Senate passed the Student Success Act. The bill now goes to the House of Delegates for consideration.
The Student Success Act, Senate Bill 1039, is another comprehensive education reform bill including the possibility of charter schools, a pay raise for teachers, incentives for teachers who go into certain subject areas, more funding for wraparound services, and more.
Also Monday, state senators passed a separate bill, Senate Bill 1040, to allow school vouchers called education saving accounts (ESAs).
A number of Senate Democrats rose in opposition to the Student Success Act, citing opposition from teachers, citizens, school boards and more.
“There are many, many good things in this bill, and I applaud the work that was done on a large portion of this bill,” said Sen. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan. “If this bill was split up and each issue put into a standalone bill ... I would support many of the issues today.”
But because the bill was an omnibus, Hardesty said he would be voting against the Student Success Act.
Gov. Jim Justice has said it would be better if the bill was broken into separate proposals. He called the special session on “education betterment” after the Legislature failed to agree on a previous omnibus education bill, Senate Bill 451, during the regular session.
One of Hardesty’s primary reasons for opposition was charter schools, which he said have proven successful in urban settings.
“West Virginia does not have a city that meets urban designation,” Hardesty said. “We are rural. It is what it is.”
He also cited statistics showing that one of every three charter schools that had opened in 2000 had been closed by 2010.
“They are full of waste, fraud and abuse,” he said.
Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, said he’s done a lot of listening for the past two-plus months.
“I’ve put my heart and soul into listening,” he said, and the one question he keeps circling back to is, “Who wants this?”
“Who wants this omnibus?” he asked. “... Not the overwhelming majority I’ve listened to.”
After a number of statewide public forums on education, the Department of Education released a report opposing school vouchers and questioning the formation of charter schools.
Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, spoke in favor of the bill.
“The worst thing we can do is nothing,” Weld said.
Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, said this bill is a start in moving forward.
“This is a comprehensive swing at a very comprehensive problem,” Tarr said. “We have year after year to come back and tweak, but something’s got to be done now.”
Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, pointed out the $68 million in pay raises.
“A lot of our problems can be solved if we’re willing to invest,” he said.
Despite clear division along party lines in the debate, Senate Education Chair Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, argued the bill is nonpartisan.
“This bill is about local control,” Rucker said. “Forty-eight out of the 50 states make decisions at the local level. West Virginia is not in line with most of the states.”
On both bills debated Monday, the vote came down along party lines, 18-15, with two exceptions — Sen. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, and Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, voted in opposition.
Both bills will now be considered by the House of Delegates, which is set to reconvene June 17.
According to a fiscal note for the Education Savings Account Program, the cost for the first year would be roughly $945,000.
A cost summary draft, dated May 30, for the Student Success Act shows an estimated cost of $127.4 million for the major provisions of the bill.