West Virginia House Finance Committee Back to Square One on Education Bill

Photo by Perry Bennett, W.Va. Legislative Services West Virginia Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, speaks Monday with Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, during a House Finance Committee meeting on the omnibus education bill before the Legislature.

CHARLESTON –­­ After a late night Monday, the House Finance Committee’s attempt to expand charter schools and put education savings accounts back into the state Senate’s education reform package failed.

The strike-and-insert amendment offered by the House Finance Committee to Senate Bill 451, the education omnibus bill, failed 12-13 after parliamentary procedure made amending the bill by House Democratic committee members a futile exercise.

The committee held two public hearings Monday morning and afternoon totaling four hours, all while holding a 2 p.m. meeting to go over the new draft of the bill, and an 8 p.m. meeting that went slightly past midnight.

Minority members of the committee offered several amendments to the finance strike-and-insert. But committee Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, ruled the amendments out of order.

Since the committee was already amending an amendment, it’s against parliamentary procedure to offer further amendments.

A motion was made to reconsider moving the finance strike-and-insert amendment so that committee Democrats could offer amendments to the original education committee strike-and-insert, but this was deemed pointless since the committee could wipe the amendments all out if they adopted the finance committee draft.

“There is nothing precluding any amendments being offered on the floor or 10,000 amendments on second reading,” Householder said.

“In all my years I have never ever seen an intentional offering of another committee amendment for the purpose of cutting off amendments to an amendment that we are working,” said Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha. “I’ve never seen that. I’ve learned something, Mr. Chairman.”

“We could have ended this hours ago, but we chose for whatever reason not to and wait until this hour and now we’re put in this position,” said Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton.

“It’s almost midnight,” said Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton. “It’s a damn charade. Frankly, I’m upset about it. I thought truly that the House was acting in a bipartisan fashion this session. I felt like we were trying to make some good amendments.”

Democratic committee members pulled their proposed amendments, but when the committee went to vote on the finance amendment, they lost several Republican committee members: Delegates Bill Anderson, R-Wood; Erikka Storch, R-Ohio; and Steve Westfall, R-Jackson.

The finance committee version would have put education savings accounts back in the bill after the education committee removed them entirely last week. Parents of special needs students on Individualized Education Plans would be eligible for one of 2,500 first-come-first-serve ESA accounts, which would put a portion of their state-allotted education expenditure on a debit card.

The finance committee plan would also have allowed parents of bullied students to apply for an ESA account.

Rachelle Engen with the libertarian Institute for Justice testified Monday afternoon about the benefits of education savings accounts.

“ESAs really give parents unprecedented opportunities to craft an education that best suits the needs of their child,” Engen said. “These parents are using education savings accounts to pay for private school tuition, purchase text books, technologies that allow them to help educate their child at home, and different things like that.”

With the defeat of the House Finance Committee strike-and-insert, the bill reverts back to the version that passed out of the House Education Committee, which limited public charter schools to a pilot project of two converted elementary schools statewide. It also eliminated educations savings accounts, a voucher program for the parents of special needs students to sue for education purchases, such as private schooling.

The House Finance Committee adjourned, taking no further action on the House Education Committee’s strike-and-insert amendment. The committee meets again at 7 a.m. today.

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