CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice signed into law last Friday a sweeping education bill, perhaps best known for paving the way for charter schools in West Virginia.
“Looking at the bill in its entirety — with all of its many, many great pieces that help our children and our teachers — there is truly so much good that will benefit teachers, students, and all West Virginians,” Justice, a Republican, said in a statement.
“I am really pleased with where we got to at the end of the day and I commend the Senate and the House for working with me to come to a compromise that will result in a big win for the entire education community and all West Virginians.”
The West Virginia Senate passed the bill during special session earlier last week, after passage in the West Virginia House of Delegates on June 19.
Justice had said at the start of the 2019 legislative session that he was opposed to charter schools, which use public funding but aren’t subject to many of the restrictions placed on traditional schools.
Teachers went on strike, for the second year in a row, over an omnibus bill that allowed for charter schools, as well as provisions that lessened the importance of seniority during lay-offs and directing public money toward private schools and home-schooling through education savings accounts. The previous year’s strike focused on increasing health care costs.
Teachers unions had argued charter schools take money from struggling schools. Democrats had argued they bring too much profit into the education system. Republicans had argued that parents should have options.
Experts in rural education and child mental health had said disadvantaged families would be less likely to sign their children up, and to have the ability to provide transportation.
When that bill failed, Justice called a special session focused on education to come to an agreement.
Among numerous provisions, the omnibus bill he signed Friday provides for public school employee pay raises, as well as more funding for school support personnel. Each county will receive enough money for five student support personnel positions, defined as social workers, nurses, or others who provide emotional support, to each 1,000 students in net enrollment.
Charter schools would be limited to three until July 1, 2023. After that, three more could be added every three years.
The bill states that elected officials may not profit or receive any monetary consideration from a charter school, unless they were employed by a public school prior to its conversion to a public charter school.
Education savings accounts were eliminated from the bill.
The bill continues to lessen the importance of seniority during lay-offs, requiring county boards to also look at certification, licensure and performance evaluations.
It also states that school workers cannot use personal leave for strikes.
Justice signed 23 bills that were passed during the recent special legislative session. Most of the others were supplemental appropriation bills.
House Finance Vice Chair Vernon Criss, R-Wood, said those bills came about because the Legislature dictated during the 2019 legislative session that if excess revenue came in, they would use it for funding at various state agencies.
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