We’re two-thirds of the way through

As of Sunday, there are 20 days left in the 60-day 2019 legislative session. While we are still not close to concluding this year’s attempt at education reform, I believe the drama has peaked.

I expect the West Virginia Senate will make an attempt today to amend the version of Senate Bill 451 that the House of Delegates passed Thursday. I doubt you’ll see education savings accounts put back into the bill, but I can easily see an attempt to expand the number of schools allowed in the public charter school pilot project.

Under the current charter school pilot, it is set up in such a way where you’ll likely only ever see one elementary school converted to a charter: Mary C. Snow Elementary on Charleston’s West Side. I’m told that the Rev. Matthew Watts, a community organizer there, really wants it. Whether he can get a majority of parents and staff to agree, and get approval of the county school board there, that remains to be seen.

One of the teachers’ unions — the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers — admitted that the two-school charter pilot was harmless in a Facebook post to members Thursday afternoon. That could be enough to make the Senate try one more time to expand it.

But at this point, it really does come down to what can make it through the House and what they can agree to. There are 59 Republicans and 41 Democrats in the House. An attempt by House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, to amend the bill Wednesday to up the pilot project to five schools — including converted public schools or new charters — failed 59-40.

Only one delegate was absent Wednesday, Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, for health reasons. So, there were 58 Republicans who voted on the amendment. Of that number, 18 Republicans voted against expanding charter schools beyond two. You’d need to peel away 11 Republican delegates to get to a 51 majority to pass any expansion.

Some more hardcore of the Republican activist class are already talking about finding Republicans to primary these delegates in 2020. Good luck with that. You might not like the vote of Delegate Tony Paynter, a Republican from Wyoming County. Yet, despite the county’s conservative voting streak lately, it’s still very much a pro-union county made up of a majority of registered Democrats. I wouldn’t call Paynter a socialist left winger, but he is someone who knows his constituents.

Frankly, some of the strong-arm tactics by some on this bill have been backfiring. I’m told that former Senate president and Republican 2016 gubernatorial candidate Bill Cole has been active in trying to twist arms of House Republicans to maintain a hard line. I’m told this led to the shenanigans Monday night when House Finance Committee leadership thought they had set up their strike-and-insert amendment to the House Education Committee’s version of SB 451 in a way where it could not be amended.

You can’t amend an amendment to an amendment. Democratic committee members were rightfully outraged by the tactic (though it was a brilliant parliamentary procedure). However, the move left a bad taste in a few Republican committee members’ mouths, and they voted down the finance committee amendment, thus preserving the scaled-down House Education Committee version.

Cole still sees himself as a king maker, though it’s unclear if anyone else sees him that way still. Cole also is not a big fan of House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, who voted against repealing the state’s prevailing wage and against right-to-work. During the amendment debate on SB 451, Cole could be seen in the back of the House Chamber observing and talking with some of the delegates.

My advice for Republicans still clamoring for more charters and adding ESA’s back into the bill: take what you’ve got so far and declare victory. Grow your legislative numbers in 2020 and try again in 2021. It’s lawmaking folks, you can’t get 100 percent of what you want.

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Correction: House Communications Director Jared Hunt reminded me that there isn’t an individual bill for public employees pay raises because those are directly in the governor’s budget. I definitely should have remembered that. So, if I caused any panic, I apologize profusely.

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Shout out to my third grade teacher Charmel Radcliff and her husband Mark, whom I’m told are avid readers of this column. Mrs. Radcliff is a retired elementary school teacher at St. Marys Elementary School in Pleasants County.

I consider myself an intelligent person, but I was admittedly a pretty terrible classroom student. I didn’t complete homework or assignments, and I largely didn’t try. I have no doubt I drove her insane and probably didn’t give her much hope for my future prospects.

I had the opportunity to see her and her husband when they were at the Capitol Thursday to watch the House vote on SB 451 and had a pleasant conversation.

See Mrs. Radcliff, I didn’t turn out so bad.

(Adams is the state government reporter for Ogden Newspapers. He can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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