House votes to table omnibus education bill indefinitely

CHARLESTON — The House of Delegates approved a motion that postponed an omnibus education bill indefinitely, essentially killing the bill.

The motion to table the bill passed 53 to 45 with two absences. That elicited an eruption of cheers from teachers who gathered outside the House of Delegates.

Debate over what to do with the bill lasted more than an hour.

Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, offered the motion to table it indefinitely.

But first delegates had to decide what to do with a separate motion by Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, to table the bill until 4 p.m. Delegates wound up voting down the Summers motion.

West Virginia teachers on strike for the second year in a row were gathering and chanting in front of the House of Delegates this morning in opposition to an omnibus education bill set for a key vote.

“I did not think last year we would be back this year, but we are,” said Ashley Weber, a Kanawha County second grade teacher.

“I thought after last year we would be taken care of a little bit more. We were promised to be taken care of, and we’re still here. I feel like a lot of this was retaliation. I feel like they just are not putting our kids first.”

Up for a vote in the House was a bill that includes a long-promised pay raise for educators, bundled with charter schools, education savings accounts, changes to the tax base affecting county school systems and more.

Weber objected to the process that the omnibus bill has gone through the Legislature. She also has concerns not only about charter schools but also education savings accounts and tenure.

Delegates were set for voting on whether to accept or reject the bill that was passed by the Senate on Monday evening.

“We hope that they don’t put it through,” Weber said. “We would rather lose the pay raise than to have this go through because it’s really not what’s best for our kids.”

The Republican-led Senate voted on changes that would include charter schools and education savings accounts, which are for students leaving public school for private education.

Becca Williamson, a first grade teacher in Kanawha County, said she objects to provisions like charters and education savings accounts but her view is broader than that.

“A lot of times what’s not in there is just as important as what’s in there,” Williamson said. “I felt like that big omnibus bill was taking our attention away from, maybe, other issues like PEIA.”

She added, “Of course, we’re insulted that we’re not consulted on this as professionals in our field.

“If they had come to us and said ‘We want to provide parents some choices but we also don’t want to harm public education as it is; we want to make sure you all have what you need as well. What do you need?’ Sometimes procedure goes a long way.”

Every county but one in West Virginia canceled school today, the exception being Putnam County.

State Superintendent Steve Paine issued a statement calling for a quick resolution.

“I regret that circumstances have led to the announcement of work stoppages in many counties throughout the state,” Paine said.

“I am working diligently with all parties to advocate for a prompt resolution. Though this is an uncertain and emotional time, we cannot forget that the best interest of students must be our top priority.”