HD Media and wire reports

CHARLESTON - The West Virginia House of Delegates has pushed a sweeping Republican education proposal one step closer to passage.

Lawmakers on Tuesday advanced the plan to allow the state's first charter schools, setting it up for a full vote in the GOP-controlled chamber Wednesday. If approved, the bill would then head to the Senate for consideration.

Education unions and Democrats oppose the measure. They argue that it's similar to a wide-ranging Senate bill that has led to massive teacher protests at the Capitol.

The legislature is currently in a special session after failing to agree on education measures before the regular session ended in March.

Teachers are packing the statehouse to rally against the House bill.

On Monday, the House technically dealt with two versions of the bill, when it reconvened for the special legislative session on education.

The new version (House Bill 206) still allows charter schools in West Virginia for the first time. But it caps the number of them at 10. Plus, it does not include previous anti-strike provisions.

House Republicans also introduced and furthered Monday private school voucher bills. They'd create different kinds of vouchers than what Senate Republicans passed earlier this month in Senate Bill 1040.

All these possible departures from what the Senate passed would require senators to reconvene their side of the special session to agree, or not, to the House changes.

School workers showed up Monday and Tuesday, many clad in red, and they were joined by some camouflage-shirted United Mine Workers union members. But the protesters' numbers were thinner than on the days of the statewide school worker strikes that have happened during the past two years.

On Monday morning, House Republicans quashed a House Democrats attempt to not receive Senate Bill 1039 from the Senate.

That bill, dubbed the Student Success Act by Senate Republicans, would allow for an unlimited number of charter schools in West Virginia, which currently doesn't permit any.

It also would include pay raises for public school workers, generally increase public school funding and allow county boards of education to reduce the role seniority plays in which employees are laid off or transferred to new jobs.

Although House Republicans kept that bill alive, the committee that House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, sent it to didn't take it up Monday.

Instead, that committee, one of the four Hanshaw created for the special session, "originated" the similar new bill, House Bill 206.

Besides capping the number of charter schools at 10, and would give county school boards near-unilateral ability to decide whether a charter school could open in the county or not.

Unlike SB 1039, the applicant to create a charter school would not be able to appeal to the state Board of Education.

HB 206 also would not include SB 1039's anti-strike provisions. SB 1039's provisions would have declared strikes unlawful, said striking is grounds for termination and banned county superintendents from closing schools in anticipation of, or to help, a strike.

That came out of Select Committee on Education Reform C. Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, led that panel, and its 24 members also included House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor.

Committee B did not take up the Senate's education savings accounts vouchers bill (Senate Bill 1040), which would have provided taxpayer-funded vouchers of about $3,800 per student to attend private or religious schools, or be home schooled.

But that committee did advance two bills to offer tax credits for private school tuition. That includes providing personal income tax exemptions of up to $3,000 a year for private school tuition (House Bill 167) and providing tax credits of up to $5 million a year for businesses and corporations and individual taxpayers who make contributions to nonprofit organizations or foundations that award private school scholarships (House Bill 168).

The committee also advanced a bill to restore annual back-to-school sales tax holidays for the purchase of school clothing and supplies, including computers (House Bill 171).

The then-Democrat-controlled Legislature allowed back-to-school sales tax holidays from 2002 to 2004, but it did not renew them in 2005, citing lost revenue and studies showing that the tax holidays did not necessarily generate new sales, but condensed regular back-to-school purchases to the holiday weekends.

The committee also advanced to the full House a measure to expand Innovation Schools (House Bill 174), and advanced to the House Finance Committee a bill to give $2,000 cost-of-living increases to all retired public teachers and school service personnel. The costs of the pension increases was not immediately available.

A public hearing on HB 206 will be at 8 a.m. Wednesday, June 19, in the House chamber.