Experiencing deja vu all over again

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before.

One body of the West Virginia Legislature unveils a massive 100-plus page bill out of nowhere and passes it in about a week.

I could be talking about the birth of Senate Bill 451, the education omnibus bill, which made its debut Jan. 24 during the regular session and was passed 18-16 on Feb. 4. You already know what happened to that bill as it went through the House of Delegates, back to the Senate, and died in the House.

I could also be talking about Senate Bill 1039, the Student Success Act, which was released to senators and the public May 24 and will likely be passed 18-16 later today. The question is this: is the Student Success Act bound for the same fate as SB 451 in the House?

Anyone who thought that eight of the 14 Senate Democrats would agree to suspend the constitution and pass the bill Saturday were living in a pipe dream. They just can’t. They have to be like the 300 Spartans and hold the pass as long as they can. But much like the Spartans, the end of the story is inevitable: The Student Success Act will pass the Senate.

Once again, there is vast agreement on almost everything in the bill. The Student Success Act incorporates many of the recommendations from the state Department of Education as gleaned from surveys and roundtable discussions. The draft that was officially introduced Saturday morning even included tweaks to address concerns of Senate Democrats.

Senate Republicans even separated an education savings account provision into its own bill. Considered controversial by many in the education community for the perception they take money out of schools and give to parents for home or private schooling (not accurate), don’t expect this bill to go far, but at least it won’t drag down the entire new omnibus bill.

Much like during the regular session, the big issues remain a provision creating the state’s first public charter school program. It allows for an unlimited number, but if the charter school section remains unchanged, I wouldn’t expect more than one school started anytime soon.

It gives the county boards of education first say over whether to allow a non-profit to set up a charter school. It gives the state Board of Education final say if those wanting the charter appeal the county board’s decision. The state board can also decide whether to renew a charter after five years or revoke a charter if the school isn’t abiding by its contract.

Speaking with a USA Today reporter that was here this weekend to cover the charter school issue, we have more oversight for charters in the Student Success Act than Arizona — where the reporter is from — has in its charter school laws. Arizona has had charter schools for more than two decades now. Arizona’s test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress for eighth grade reading and math in their charter schools have increased 20 and 30 points over eight years respectively.

There are approximately 29 proposals in the Student Success Act. Nearly all have universal support. County school boards want more flexibility and funding. It’s in the bill. Teachers want more wraparound services to help students affected by the opioid epidemic. It’s in the bill. Gov. Jim Justice wants a 5 percent pay raise for teachers and for counties to be able to give math teachers more pay. It’s in the bill.

But because the public charter school provision is in the bill, it makes it a poison pill for some: specifically, Democrats and teacher union members. I’ve yet to hear how charters hurt a county school system. With the stringent rules put into the bill, I’m again unsure where one would start a charter school outside of Charleston’s West Side.

If you’re a parent who loves your school (which as I pointed out in a recent column, most parents like their child’s school, regardless if the school is meeting academic standards or not), then I imagine you won’t be getting together with other parents to form a non-profit and apply to start a charter school.

Or would you? In Parkersburg, five schools have been recommended for closure. What if the parents of students at VanDevender Middle School, one of the schools recommended for closure, decided to band together and go through the process of starting a public charter school?

I imagine you’ll see that scenario play out before you ever see a Koch Brothers school.

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


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