Dave Mistich Published

'Omnibus' Education Bill Remains Largely Intact After Lengthy Debate on Amendments

Members of the West Virginia Senate debated Friday a long list of proposed amendments to a sweeping and controversial education reform bill. The measure, Senate Bill 451, ties school employee pay raises to a long list of provisions public educators oppose. During hours of debate, the bill saw some small, notable changes — but remains largely intact.

Democrats offered a slew of amendments to eliminate provisions of the bill that educators and the leaders of their unions oppose. Those amendments, which all failed on 16-18 votes, were offered individually. They included amendments that sought to strike the bill’s non-severability clause, charter schools, education savings accounts and the ability for county boards of education to raise levy rates to provide for school funding.

But perhaps the most notable was an amendment offered by Democrats that sought to strike the entirety of Senate Bill 451 and replace it with the language that would simply give a pay raise for teachers and service personnel. That proposed amendment failed on a 15-18 vote, with Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Cabell, absent.

Republican Sens. Bill Hamilton and Kenny Mann broke with the majority to side with Democrats on all the downed amendments.

A few amendments, however, were approved. Those amendments, offered by Republicans, include:

  • Giving classroom teachers a $500 bonus if they have no more than four work absences in a year.
  • Allowing the governor to appoint members of a commission on charter schools (an earlier version of the bill had allowed the Senate President and House Speaker to do so).
  • Salary cannot be considered a qualification when conducting a reduction in force.
  • To be granted an education savings account, total household income must be less than $150,000 annually.
  • Prior to any regular levy rate increase, such an increase must be approved by a majority vote of the voters of the county.
  • Outlining a student’s eligibility for an educational savings account based on student performance.

With the bill remaining largely intact, educators and the leaders of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association are planning their next steps.
At a news conference earlier Friday, leaders of those unions announced that local chapters of the union will vote this week whether to authorize a work stoppage should the need present itself.

The Senate is expected to hold a final vote on the Senate Bill 451 Monday. If passed, the measure will head to the House of Delegates, where the fate of the bill is unclear.