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Sweeping education reform bill prompts lengthy Senate meeting, much debate

Senators listen to details Wednesday of the proposed education reform bill that is being considered in the West Virginia Senate. (WCHS/WVAH)

There was a lengthy question-and-answer session at the West Virginia Capitol that stretched well into Wednesday night as senators were asking specific questions about that sweeping education reform bill that is causing quite a conversation across the state.

As those senators learned more about that more than 140-page bill, an emergency West Virginia Board of Education meeting was held so that education officials could express their concerns.

The bill last week passed the Senate Education Committee and fast-tracked to the full Senate where members are acting as a Committee of the Whole.

Most of Wednesday’s session consisted of talk about charter schools, a main part of that bill that has been causing controversy.

Meanwhile, the state Board of Education outlined what parts of the bill it supports and what parts it is against.

Senators sat for nearly 10 hours as they went through each bill outlined in Senate Bill 451, the omnibus education bill.

“We under fund things and when they get really bad we point the finger and say, ‘Look it’s broken.’ Well, we broke it,” Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said.

The latest version of the bill removed a section of the bill that would have increased elementary school class sizes, a proposal that teachers were worried about.

A teacher bonus also was modified to allow $500 for every 10 days of sick leave a teacher has at retirement.

Educators remain critical and claim this bill was put together without their input.

At an emergency meeting Wednesday, the state Board of Education sorted through the bill.

State Board of Education President David Perry said while there are some provisions that board members support, some aren’t the way to go for West Virginia .

“There are provisions in there such as charter schools, the savings accounts, the payday protection plan and so forth that I don’t think we can support,” Perry said.

State Board of Education members voted to endorse several sections of the bill, including the teacher pay raise and tax credits for teachers. They voted not to endorse the charter school provision, education savings accounts and the work stoppage provision that would make sure teachers are not paid if another strike takes place.

“The speed has caused us to have to have this emergency session. Also based on the fact there has been no contact or input from the state Board of Education, which constitutionally is the body in the state that oversees public education,” Perry said.

The Senate adjourned after hearing speakers from public schools and some out-of-town experts on charter schools. The Senate will reconvene at 9 a.m. Thursday.

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