Vote on education bill today

Amendments still possible after public hearing today

BILL ADVANCES — West Virginia House of Delegates Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, talks with reporters after the end of Tuesday’s floor session. House Bill 206, that chamber’s version of the education omnibus bill, is slated for a third reading and vote today. -- Steven Allen Adams

CHARLESTON — Day two of the resumption of the special session for education reform in the House of Delegates on Tuesday saw several bills — including the new House omnibus bill — move to the final phase.

The House met Tuesday afternoon and moved 23 bills to third reading. These include 11 bills dealing with different aspects of education betterment as requested by Gov. Jim Justice when he called the special session in March.

The largest of these bills, House Bill 206, replaces the 142-page Student Success Act passed by the state Senate on June 3 with a new 144-page education omnibus bill amending or removing entirely some of the provisions in the Senate bill.

Of note, it caps the Senate’s unlimited charter school program in Senate Bill 1039 to a 10-school maximum and gives counties sole power to authorize or reject charter school applications.

It removes anti-strike provisions included in the Student Success Act which docked teacher pay during a work stoppage, canceled extracurricular activities, and prohibited county school superintendents from canceling school during a work stoppage.

“We were pleased to move House Bill 206 from select committee C,” said acting House Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson. “It represents a good piece of legislation that not only includes a host of benefits for traditional public education, but does include some modest school choice which I think will allow West Virginia parents, students, and communities to have many of the same options that states around the country currently have.”

HB 206 moved to third reading with a right to amend, putting it up for passage today after an 8 a.m. public hearing in the House Chamber.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were 10 floor amendments pending for HB 206.

“We are certainly working with our members to see what, if any, refinements or tweaks they might have for the legislation,” Espinosa said. “There are a few minor technical kinds of amendments that our staff have identified that we’ll certainly offer. We’ll take up each amendment individually and consider them. Certainly, our goal is to make the legislation the strongest piece of legislation as we can, and hopefully make it acceptable to the Senate and the governor.”

The House Finance Committee met Tuesday to consider two bills that would replace a Senate bill passed two weeks ago creating an education savings account program. The committee passed House Bill 168, establishing the West Virginia Equal Opportunity Education Scholarship program.

The bill allows businesses and individuals to receive tax credits for donating to scholarships to send low-income and special needs students to private school or for home schooling. Businesses or individuals could receive as much as $5 million per year in tax credits if the bill is passed. It also prohibited donations to public schools that are within 10 miles of a private school.

HB 168 barely passed out of the committee, with 11 votes to recommend it for passage and 11 votes against. House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, broke the tie and the bill passed 12-11. Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, had serious concerns with the bill.

“Everybody wants investment in education … but why are we doing it just for private schools,” Rowe asked. “Why can’t people get a tax break if they’re giving to public schools? I don’t understand that. In particular, why are schools that are within a 10-mile radius of a private school being excluded from this program? It makes no sense.”

In order for HB 168 to pass, the House will need to suspend the rules to put it on third reading today unless the House chooses to return Thursday so the bill is read on three separate days.

The second bill meant to replace the education savings account bill — House Bill 167 — would have provided up to a $3,000 tax break to parents who have students in private school. That bill died in committee when the committee adjourned abruptly. Other bills not making it include bills to restart the sales tax holiday for parental educational purchases and increasing the cost of living adjustment for retired teachers and school service personnel.

The House was expected to meet this morning at 11 a.m.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@ newsandsentinel.com)

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