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W.Va. gov would veto education bill that angers teachers

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice said Tuesday he would veto a comprehensive education bill now under consideration in the Legislature that has upset teachers who went on strike last year.

Justice said at a news conference that lawmakers should instead consider passing his original intent of giving teachers and other state employees an additional 5 percent pay raise without the multiple facets of the bill now before the GOP-led Senate.

“You’re going to take all of the good that we’re putting together and ruin it,” the Republican governor said. “When you have the opportunity to give, you ought not give and put a receipt in the box.”

Among other things, the 144-page bill would create public charter schools, increase elementary school class sizes in public schools, establish savings accounts for families to pay for private school and require teachers to sign off annually on union dues. Some call the bill a payback for last year’s nine-day strike when teachers won an initial 5 percent pay raise.

The Senate bill “is really just creating a mess when a mess doesn’t need to be created,” Justice said. “We don’t need uncertainty today and we don’t need to create a food fight for next to nothing.”

Justice mentioned his opposition to several items in the bill, including establishing charter schools statewide.

“For crying out loud, we have to concentrate on our public schools,” he said.

But Justice said he respects the legislative process and the Senate bill should be allowed to run its course.

On Monday the Senate approved a rare motion to let the entire Senate consider the bill as a committee instead of sending it to a finance committee. Introduced on Thursday, the bill’s public education component has an estimated cost to the state of nearly $137 million.

“I honestly think that cooler heads are going to prevail here,” Justice said. “The whole thing is really one word to me: ‘Why? Why are we doing this?’ My bill should be considered, and then if we want to debate all the other issues, then debate them.”

Union leaders applauded Justice’s stance.

“We all agree that we can improve an already good education system, but lopping it all together is not the way to go,” said West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael said Monday the current bill would improve outcomes for West Virginia students. He noted that Justice ran as governor in 2016 on the notion that West Virginians were tired of being ranked at the bottom among the states in many areas.

“We want to move the state forward in terms of education reform,” Carmichael said. “We’re making a real effort to put the student first.”

When asked about Justice’s promised veto, Carmichael said, “We’ll just have to deal with that.”

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