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Members of public weigh in to give thoughts on proposed education bill

West Virginia Board of Education President David Perry speaks Monday morning at a public hearing on the education reform bill. (West Virginia Public Broadcasting)

UPDATE, 5:02 p.m.

Members of the public had a second chance to voice their thoughts on the controversial education reform bill Monday evening at a public hearing in the West Virginia House of Delegates.

Below is the video of that public hearing courtesy of West Virginia Public Broadcasting:

Earlier in the day, more than 70 speakers weighed in the bill that is now in the House Finance Committee.

UPDATE, 3:44 p.m.

As the education reform bill continues its way through the West Virginia House of Delegates, there are sharp differences between the bill passed by the Senate and the bill as it now stands in the House.

The House of Delegates released a Senate Bill 451 comparison that shows the Senate version, the House Education Committee strike-and-insert version and the House Finance Committee strike-and-insert version. Below is the comparison:

The bill was passed by the House Education Committee and is now in the House Finance Committee.

UPDATE, 10:04 a.m.

A public hearing wrapped up Monday morning in the West Virginia House of Delegates, where members of the public gave their take on a controversial education reform bill.

The second public hearing is scheduled at 5:30 p.m.

More than 70 speakers gave their thoughts on the proposed legislation. One of the speakers was Bridgeport High School student Vincent Pinti, who has spinal muscular atrophy and is in a wheelchair. He received a standing ovation for his remarks.

"Do you understand that we put one school designed to compete with others we are saying some kids deserve to win and some kids deserve to fail," Pinti said.

Pinti said funding charter schools, employing resources of public schools "hurts people like me."

Below is the video from the public hearing:

UPDATE, 9:57 a.m.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said he had been keeping score during the public hearing and 77 percent are against the bill.

Lee said the true experts are the ones sitting in the audience and in the gallery and “who drove miles and miles to have their voices heard.”

A Hardy County teacher said she opposed the bill. She said what schools needs is competitive salaries to keep teachers from going out of state, good insurance, addressing the problems with the Public Employees Insurance Agency, and mental health and social counselors in every single school.

Keith Pauley, a Kanawha County parent, stood up to speak in support of the bill. He said he has four children and his family tried all of the methods to educate them – public, private and home schooling.

Pauley said all of his children are different, and the state needs a unique way of dealing with the differences of kids who live in the state.

One teacher complained about the lack of input from educators in Senate Bill 451.

“As a teacher, I’m giving you an assignment. Go visit a classroom and see what changes are needed,” the teacher said.

Taylor Justice, a second-grade teacher in Wayne County, said the promise that Gov. Jim Justice made about another 5 percent pay raise, is drowning in Senate Bill 451.

The teacher pointed out that 90 percent of the children in West Virginia attend public schools and the bill does not provide adequate funding for them.

Justice said her students have been affected greatly by the opioid crisis.

“I would like to encourage you to visit a school and ask these children about their lives,” she said.

UPDATE, 9:35 a.m.

Some at the public hearing talked about the challenges faced by today’s educators.

“I love being a teacher, but it’s becoming more difficult every day,” Tracy McClanahan said.

Randy Halsey said he really should have been in the classroom Monday rather than at a public hearing.

“But my kids are going to get the best social studies lesson because democracy works,” Halsey said.

UPDATE, 9:10 a.m.

West Virginia University professor Sarah Anderson said the bill doesn’t address some key areas that need to be tackled – poverty, trauma and broken homes.

Mingo County teacher Lorraine Davis said there is “no validating evidence that the proposed changes will have a positive effect on student achievement.”

The West Virginia PTA said it believes the bill would cripple public education. Rose Rosanna, vice president of the organization, said the proposed legislation is not the answer to improving education.

Melissa Adkins of Nicholas County Schools said charter schools and education savings accounts would not work in Nicholas County, citing the number of schools as one reason.

UPDATE, 8:43 a.m.

Several county school superintendents said educators should have been included in the drafting of the bill.

Cathi Bradley said schools are severely understaffed when it comes to mental health professionals.

One speaker made clear on an opinion about what should happen to the bill.

“The construction of this bill . . . is not sufficient with what we need to do. Kill this bill,” Mickey Blackwell said.

Not everyone who spoke at the public hearing opposed the bill. David Howe said he supports Senate Bill 451.

“I implore you to pass this bill,” Howe said.

Another supporter was parent Kathy Kraus.

“I am speaking for parents and the children who feel they have no choice and no voice,” Kraus said.

Parent Kimberly Earl, who has four children in Kanawha County schools, said the state doesn’t need additional educational institutions.

“We don’t need more schools,” Earl said. “We need more people to care about the schools we already have.”

UPDATE, 8:31 a.m.

Speaker after speaker weighed in the West Virginia education bill Monday morning in the West Virginia House of Delegates at a public hearing.

A long line formed on House floor as educators signed up to speak on the omnibus education bill. It was the first of two public hearings as another hearing is planned at 5:30 p.m. House members expected Monday mornings hearing to last about two hours.

“Charter schools lack transparency and will affect the passage of county excess levies and bonds,” Lori Kesser said.

Meanwhile, West Virginia Board of Education President David Perry spoke in support of the current bill passed by the House Education Committee Perry’s comments were in sharp contrast to a previous statement he made about Senate Bill 451, which was amended heavily in the House Education Committee.

As the constitutional body charged with the supervision of all public schools, not charter schools, it is our responsibility to work with all students, let me emphasize, all students, have access to a free and efficient and equitable system of education,” Perry said.

Perry said the education landscape has changed, and he said the best path forward is one that engages all West Virginia families, West Virginia communities, teachers, educators, service personnel and lawmakers.

“If we all work together, we can actually change the climate of achievement in our schools and economic progress for our state,” Perry said. “It has been said that good public policy makes good politics. As the House Finance deliberates the House Education Committee version, please, please keep intact minimal changes to the Education Committee version and report it out to the full House for adoption.”

Karen Nance, a former Cabell County Board of Education member, said of the bill, “Just because you call it sweeping reform does not make it good reform.”

Groups representing school employees also stepped up to offer comments about the bill. Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said not a single teacher, principal or parent had a hand in drafting the bill.

The unions representing school employees have been given authorities in a vote over the weekend to authorize statewide action if they believe one is necessary.

County school superintendents from Upshur and Marion counties also offered their views on the education measure.

“Our stakeholders have a lot of great ideas, but we haven’t heard those ideas, and there lies the problem,” Upshur County School Superintendent Sara Stankus said.

ORIGINAL STORY:

Members of the public get their chance Monday to weigh in on a controversial education reform bill that led to groups representing school employees to vote over the weekend for a statewide labor action as necessary.

The West Virginia House of Delegates is holding two public hearings – 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.

Representatives of school employees have been up in arms about Senate Bill 451 passed by the Senate, which bundled together school employee pay raises with other education reforms, including public charter schools.

Some of those controversial measures have been removed as the bill moves through the House of Delegates. In a 15-10 vote, the House Education Committee passed the education reform bill Friday after multiple days of discussion and several amendments. Republicans voted to approve the bill, and Democrats voted to oppose. The bill now heads to the House Finance Committee.

A move to kill the bill completely by Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, was rejected by the House Education Committee. He said the bill was still too complex, and it needed a year of study before it would be fully understood.

Several key amendments were approved in committee. The charter school provision was amended to recommend a pilot program for two elementary schools that could be located anywhere in the state. The majority of teachers and parents would also have to approve the decision to switch.

The non-severability clause, which called for the whole bill to be struck down if one aspect was successfully challenged in court, was removed. Paycheck protection, a provision that called for yearly approval by employees for their union deductions, was taken out of the bill.

Meanwhile, the option for education savings accounts was removed altogether. A provision that would withhold teacher pay in the event of a work-stoppage also was nixed.

A provision that would fund school innovation zones with a minimum of $5 million was approved by the committee in the bill.

The amendments are suggestions from the House Education Committee that could still be changed.

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