The Republican legislature's comprehensive education bill would appear to have two purposes: bring vouchers (public money for non-public education) to West Virginia and punish public school teachers for last year’s defiance of the legislature. (Note, those purposes may differ with the governor’s intentions.) Despite Republican rhetoric about improving education (the bill raises the maximum class sizes in elementary schools from 28 to 31?), it appears that the only way this bill will pass in its current form is to bypass the usual legislative committee process.
West Virginia – the new “ground-zero” in the voucher/charter school wars?
Last year, that battle was fought, if media attention is accurate, in Arizona where voters eventually turned down a proposal to make over a million public school students eligible for vouchers. In West Virginia, however, the voters won’t get to decide -- the Republican legislature appears ready to take whatever action is necessary to ensure that they become a reality in the state. Making it a comprehensive bill (all parts pass or nothing passes) and skipping committee actions and votes certainly raises questions about the Republican commitment to democratic processes. Some background:
Senator Rucker’s ALEC and other right-wing connections
In retrospect, last month’s naming of Senator Patricia Rucker (R – Jefferson) to head the Senate Education Committee was a foreshadowing of what would follow. Rucker was clearly a supporter of non-public education in all its various forms: vouchers, charter schools, educational saving accounts, home schooling, anti-vax, and anti-union. Rucker was previously president of her local Tea Party and she is currently state chair of ALEC, the conservative, corporation-favoring, legislative bill-writing* organization. Importantly, she replaced a moderate Republican as chair. (I wrote about her appointment here.)
The Republican plan was unveiled during National School Choice Week. As Right Wing Watch describes the week:
National School Choice Week is essentially a giant nationwide public relations spectacle—complete with an official dance and tens of thousands of cheerful bright yellow fleece scarves—that portrays itself as nonpolitical. . . .
While NSCW has gotten increasingly secretive about its funders and partners, it was created by and has been supported by right-wing foundations, for-profit-corporations seeking to siphon money from public schools, pro-privatization activists, and think tanks hostile to the very idea of public education.
Media Matters had a similar take:
National School Choice Week is designed to promote a handful of policies that would privatize various aspects of the public education system, including vouchers and privately operated, for-profit, and online charter schools. It’s no coincidence that these specific policies are the best options for wealthy individuals or massive corporations that want to cash in on students -- or that these same policies are supported by more openly right-wing groups underwritten by corporate billionaires, such as the Koch-affiliated American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and State Policy Network think tanks.
The WV affiliate rallied in Charleston last week and the Sunday Wheeling News-Register story on the education bill featured a front-page picture of pre-teens attending the event. (Interestingly, that day’s Mike Myer column criticized parents for using children as props at political events. I guess Myer doesn’t consider a pro-voucher rally as a political event.)
Of course, Ogden Newspapers, as a voucher supporter and long-time critic of public school teacher unions, have supported the Republican Party on these issues. (The afternoon editorial, however, did suggest that the Republicans ought to pass the main features in separate bills.) On the local TV front, Media Matters reported that the celebration of National School Choice Week became an excuse for a Boris Epshteyn “softball” interview of U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that was a “must-carry” on all Sinclair Broadcasting affiliates last week. (WTOV-9 carried it last Thursday.)
The bill’s future?
As I write this, it’s hard to say as new wrinkles keep appearing. For instance, Metro News is now reporting that the governor just said that he wants the pay raise to go through with no strings attached and WV Public Broadcasting's Dave Mistich recently tweeted that the governor said that he would veto the bill in its current form. (The governor has also previously suggested that he is against charter schools.) We’ll see.
- WV Public's Dave Mistich tweeted that Democrat Paul Hardesty claims that parts of the bill are taken “verbatim” from ALEC. That’s not surprising.