Legislative News

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The Thrasher Group

March 9, 2018 - Volume 38 Issue 9

By Jim Wallace

Now that West Virginia has gotten past the strike that involved teachers and school service workers in all 55 counties over nine school days, many people are assessing what it means for public education, other programs and even other states.

Reports from around the nation indicate that teachers in at least three other states – Oklahoma, Arizona and Kentucky – have been energized by the success of their West Virginia counterparts in standing up to legislators and the governor to get better pay and benefits. Some say it is backlash against years of tax-cutting by Republicans while teachers went without pay increases. Observers also have speculated that the strike could have reignited the labor movement in West Virginia and could have political implications, especially considering that most of the strikers were women.

What the West Virginia teachers and school service personnel won were 5 percent pay raises for the next fiscal year, not only for themselves but for other public employees, a freeze on premiums and benefits from the Public Employees Insurance Agency and the appointment of a task force to finding permanent solutions to PEIA’s funding problems. But the raises come at the cost of other programs because the Senate insisted on cutting spending rather than relying on Gov. Jim Justice’s additional $58 million in estimated revenue for the next fiscal year.

Some legislators worried about budget cuts even before the House and Senate voted on the pay raise bill, House Bill 4145, and the governor signed it into law on Tuesday. Part of their concern came from comments that Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, made Tuesday morning about “very deep cuts” when the House-Senate joint conference committee worked out agreement on the bill.

“We have to understand where this $20 million is coming from, as well. That’s going to be coming out of General Services and Medicaid.” – Sen. Craig Blair

“We’re going to see a $20 million reduction in spending in the state of West Virginia government,” he said. “We have to understand where this $20 million is coming from, as well. That’s going to be coming out of General Services and Medicaid.”

When the bill reached the Senate floor later that day, Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, was the first to express alarm.

“I want to make sure that there’s not a backroom deal going on here that punishes people that are too poor to afford to go to a doctor,” he said. “I understand there are Medicaid cuts that are involved in this, Mr. President, and one of your members said today, ‘If people can’t afford to get medical care, thank a teacher.’ See I don’t approve of that because we’re going to cut social and medical programs to do this, your member said – member of your caucus. See, that’s just pitting one group against another. The people we need to serve the most are the people that society has served the least.”

“The governor says we have the money for this. The House says we have the money for this in the budget. Don’t do this on the backs of the Medicaid recipients.” – Sen. Mike Woelfel

Woelfel added, “The governor says we have the money for this. The House says we have the money for this in the budget. Don’t do this on the backs of the Medicaid recipients.”

Likewise, Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said, “What I’m hearing is really kind of shocking to me that after two months of not having any money, we came up with it for this 5 percent, but we’ve got to cut other programs – other people’s benefits, other needy people’s benefits. You know, I just want the record to be clear: We’ve pointed out at least three different ways to fund these raises without hurting another person or putting another dime of taxes on any citizen.”

Romano said those alternatives for funding included increasing the severance tax on natural gas, taking a cut from betting on sports (assuming a U.S. Supreme Court case would make it legal) and cutting back on business tax breaks.

“It’s not right to stand up here and say the only way to do it was to cut other needy people and try to blame them,” he said. “That is not right.”

But Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, said funding cuts were necessary and would hurt many people. “We’re going to have to cut, and that does mean cutting programs,” he said. “I’ll tell you straight up, some of those programs I would have been tickled to death to cut before any of this happened. Some of them are programs that I wouldn’t have wanted to see cut.”

However, later that day at a ceremony at which he signed House Bill 4145 into law, Justice said he wouldn’t let Medicaid recipients suffer for the pay raise for teachers, school service workers and others.

“We will not let our people that are on Medicaid suffer in any way.” – Gov. Jim Justice

“There’s not a chance on this planet that’s going to be the case,” Justice said. “We will not let our people that are on Medicaid suffer in any way.”

Noting that the state ended the last fiscal year with a surplus in Medicaid of $173 million, he said, “No one needs to worry one instant about a Medicaid cut.”

Further, the governor expressed confidence in his budget projections. “I put $58 million into the revenue, and nobody could stop me from putting that in, and I absolutely believe with all in me that it is rock solid numbers,” he said. Then he added that, if legislators want to wait for the money to come in before using it, he is OK with that.

Justice also said he saw a bigger lesson in the experience with the strike. “We have to move away from the idea that education is a necessary evil that just has to be funded,” he said. “What we really should be doing is looking at our children and our teachers as an investment that we’re trying to make great. That’s what we’re doing in West Virginia, and the world has seen it.”

“I will not stop until we see the student performance improve in the state of West Virginia to where it attracts business.” – Sen. Craig Blair

Blair said he expects increasing teachers’ pay to yield dividends for future generations. “I will not stop until we see the student performance improve in the state of West Virginia to where it attracts business,” he said. “It says that we are ready.”

Here is what is being cut from the budget so the state can afford the pay raises and other expenses related to settling the strike:

  • The $46 million that Justice wanted to add to the budgets of the Department of Commerce and the Division of Tourism;
  • About $18 million that had been slated for spending on deferred maintenance on state properties;
  • A planned transfer of $12 million from general revenue to the Road Fund;
  • $13.5 million that was scheduled for paying down what is left from the old workers’ compensation fund debt;
  • $14 million in lottery revenues that could have been used elsewhere in the budget; and
  • About $7 million that some people, especially Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, wanted to use to subsidize tuition for students to attend community and technical colleges.

Altogether, the cost of the package that settled the strike amounts to about $150 million. According to figures mentioned by House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, and Blair in presentations on the state budget bill, that includes $29 million needed to freeze PEIA premiums and benefits over the next fiscal year and $111 million for pay raises for teachers, school service personnel and other public employees. In addition, they said, about $14 million is needed for the state’s share of retirement programs that are tied to compensation levels.

Task force will tackle PEIA costs.

Work on developing a permanent fix to PEIA’s funding problems will begin next Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. when the governor’s new task force on PEIA will meet for the first time. His chief of staff, Mike Hall, will serve as chairman. On Thursday, Justice announced that other members will include:

  • Marty Becker, chairman of the board of directors of QBE Insurance Group
  • Greg Burton, chief executive officer of BrickStreet Insurance
  • Andy Paterno, president and CEO of Centurion Insurance Services
  • Joe Letnaunchyn, president and CEO of the West Virginia Hospital Association
  • Rob Alsop, vice president for strategic initiatives at West Virginia University
  • Nelson Spencer, superintendent of McDowell County schools
  • Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Healthcare
  • Senate President Mitch Carmichael
  • Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair
  • Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne
  • House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson
  • Delegate Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay
  • Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh
  • Geoff Christian, member of the PEIA Finance Board
  • Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia
  • Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association
  • Joe White, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association
  • Dr. Rahul Gupta, commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health
  • Douglas Kirk of the Division of Highways
  • Lt. Michael LaFauci of the West Virginia State Police
  • Retired Wood County Circuit Judge Jeffrey Reed
  • Judy Hale, retired teacher and former president of AFT-WV

Missed days must be made up.

One other issue resulting from the strike that superintendents and school boards in all 55 counties must address is how to make up the nine instructional days missed during the strike. On Tuesday, Justice said he would ask state Supt. Steve Pain to work with the school districts on flexibility in satisfying the requirement for 180 instructional days.

“Our children have suffered most,” the governor said. “Families should and will have time for summer vacations.”

On Thursday, Paine said the Education Department was working with the districts, but he emphasized that all nine days must be made up.

“Those employees that missed nine days were, in fact, paid for those nine days off. Those nine days must be made up in order for those employees to be paid.” – Supt. Steve Paine

“Those employees that missed nine days were, in fact, paid for those nine days off,” he said. “Those nine days must be made up in order for those employees to be paid.”

Paine said he expects most districts will choose to make up some of those days by taking them away from spring break. He said instructional days made up in the spring are likely to be more effective than those added onto the end of the school year, although most districts will likely have to do that, too.

One other option exists for some districts in making up some days. State law now allows school districts to lengthen the instructional day beyond the state-mandated length and accrue the extra time for use in making up missed days. The main purpose of that provision was to help districts make up days lost to snow or other conditions that prevented classes from being held. This year, the provision also could be used to make up days lost to the strike.

Paine said it would be up to each district to decide whether to give students excused absences if their families already have vacations planned for what was scheduled to be spring break. “That’s a local decision, but it’s something we have advised districts to seriously consider,” Paine said.

By Jim Wallace

Other than the pay raise bill that was the subject of the nine-day strike by teachers and school service personnel, perhaps the biggest battle over a bill affecting public education this week was over House Bill 4006. That’s the bill that would eliminate the Department of Education and the Arts, give some of its duties to the separate Department of Education and distribute its remaining agencies and programs to other parts of state government.

Members of the Senate Education Committee struggled over the bill at meetings that stretched over two consecutive days before sending the bill to the full Senate. Several senators, mostly Democrats, expressed concerns over what would happen to such agencies as the Center for Professional Development, which provides programs to train teachers and principals. House Bill 4006 would require the Education Department to have a center for professional development but not necessarily the same Center for Professional Development that now is part of the Department of Education and the Arts.

The Education Department gave the legislature a fiscal note estimating that it could save the state $745,000 annually by taking over the center’s functions, including the Beginning Principals Academy, the Evaluation Leadership Institute and training for teachers to handle advanced placement classes. That $745,000 is half of what it said the Center for Professional Development was allocated for those programs in the current fiscal year.

But the Department of Education and the Arts came up with a different fiscal note saying that the Center for Professional Development spends only $350,000 to administer the three programs that were identified in the Education Department’s estimate. Further, the Education and the Arts fiscal note said the net loss to the state from House Bill 4006 would be $1,545,000. That figures a savings of $95,000 from cutting out the salary of the cabinet secretary but a projected loss of revenue of $1.8 million for a variety of programs, many of which receive federal funding.

The preparer of that fiscal note, Sue Chapman, chief financial officer for Education and the Arts and director of administration for Culture and History, told the committee that the department has 47.7 fulltime-equivalent positions at the cabinet level with a budget of $12 million to $13 million. She said the department reduced its budget last year through consolidation, such as her own position, and saved more than $1 million.

“If you were to eliminate the cabinet, you would be losing over $6 million in federal funds alone.” – Sue Chapman

“If you were to eliminate the cabinet, you would be losing over $6 million in federal funds alone,” she said. “Those are primarily for Volunteer West Virginia, and again, this bill does not address the other programs and how those programs and the funds are intertwined.”

Chapman added, “I work in the weeds in finance, and to go through this process is not going to save money. It is going to cost you more money.”

Lorrie Smith, chief executive officer of the Center for Professional Development, said the Education Department’s fiscal note focusing on three of her center’s programs leaves out other programs the center handles, such as one to support teachers to achieve national board certification. West Virginia ranks 17th in the nation for such teachers, she said.

“We have 4.8 percent of our teachers [who] are nationally board certified where 3 percent nationally are,” Smith said. “And that’s a program that we took over and have grown for the last 10 years. So that program is not addressed. That would go away – those supports. And that’s what allows a teacher to earn an additional $3,500 per year, so that’s a great way for them to get a pay increase. It’s not an easy process, but we provide support for them to get that pay increase.”

The Center for Professional Development has worked hard to make sure it offers specialized services, rather than duplicating what the Education Department is doing, she said.

“Counties are strapped lots of times for staffing, resources and money. So they need to be able to go outside of their county to get those resources. They can’t develop the professional development. They can’t provide it. We can provide it statewide with consistency on a $1.5 million budget.” – Lorrie Smith

“Principals identify the local needs at their areas, and then where are they going to come to get that professional development?” Smith asked. “Counties are strapped lots of times for staffing, resources and money. So, they need to be able to go outside of their county to get those resources. They can’t develop the professional development. They can’t provide it. We can provide it statewide with consistency on a $1.5 million budget.”

Asked whether the center could do that under the Department of Education, she replied, “I suppose we could do the same thing and work closely. Sure, but this bill does not do that.”

Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, noted that the center is co-chaired by Education and the Arts Secretary Gayle Manchin and state Supt. Steve Paine of the Education Department. He then suggested that it should not be a problem for the center to work with the Education Department.

“Absolutely not,” Smith responded.

A critic of the bill, Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, asked, “What’s not working well right now? Why are we basically doing away with the Center for Professional Development?”

“I can’t say what we’re doing that’s not working well,” Smith replied. “I mean our advanced placement institutes are attended nationally. The state board of education has a policy where advanced placement teachers are required to attend. But each summer, we have about 56 teachers from other states and even other countries that attend our professional development.”

Those advanced placement institutes are endorsed by the College Board, which oversees advanced placement courses, she said.

“We have continued to support principals and school teams through safe school summits, and we’re currently offering trauma-sensitive education because the education community came to us and said, ‘We need some help,’” Smith said. “So, we have since developed that training and are offering that to schools and school districts at no expense to them.”

In fiscal year 2017, the center took a $700,000 cut and was able to continue its level of support, she said, adding that it helps that the center shares services and staff with other agencies in Education and the Arts.

Stollings suggested that moving the center’s programs would require a steep learning curve for those who would take charge of them.

“There would be,” Smith said. “And that’s a concern with any of the programs listed under Education and the Arts where they say the line-items might be moved. The line-item budgets can be moved, but the staff right now is at Education and the Arts that has managed these programs statewide for a very long time now, so that would be a learning curve plus an added expense because you’re going to have to have the staffing come directly out of that rather than the Education and the Arts budget.”

“So, it may not save any money at all,” Stollings said.

“You may not,” Smith replied.

House Education chairman defends bill.

At the next Senate Education Committee meeting on Tuesday, members heard from one of the bill’s sponsors, House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson. He said the bill addresses one of the unfulfilled recommendations of the education audit conducted several years ago – the establishment of clear state-level leadership on professional development. He said the state school board, which included Gayle Manchin at that time, agreed with that recommendation.

“Really, the focus of this legislation is to reinforce the principal as the instructional leader of the school and call upon that principal in consultation with his or her staff at their school to really determine what professional development is relevant and would be most impactful in their classrooms.” – Delegate Paul Espinosa

“Really, the focus of this legislation is to reinforce the principal as the instructional leader of the school and call upon that principal in consultation with his or her staff at their school to really determine what professional development is relevant and would be most impactful in their classrooms,” Espinosa said.

The audit called for the Center for Professional Development’s programs to move to the Education Department, he said. “Once that’s done, I think, it begs the question of what happens with the remainder of the Department of Education and the Arts that currently houses the Center for Professional Development,” he said. Espinosa added that legislators received assurances from the Education Department that other programs now under Education and the Arts would not be ended as long as the legislature funds them in the budget.

Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said, “It sounds like this is about local control and just making things run more efficiently.”

But Stollings said he worries about transferring all those programs. Some get better funding than their counterparts in other states, he said.

Espinosa said the Education Department expects to continue those programs. “While we’re eliminating the umbrella of that Education and the Arts, the broad array of programs underneath the Department of Education and the Arts will continue,” he said. “Those programs are not in code today.”

However, Stollings pointed out that the education audit recommended broadening the Education and the Arts secretary’s oversight and advocacy role for education generally.

Espinosa then explained that he was not suggesting the audit specifically said to get rid of the department. He said the House of Delegates determined that transferring the Center for Professional Development would leave a department without its largest program and then determined it was consistent with the audit to move the other programs.

“I think we’re in the process of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. How in the world in the current budgeting process could we ever think about these programs being funded with the cut-cut-cut mentality that I see daily?” – Sen. Ron Stollings

“I think we’re in the process of throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” Stollings said. “How in the world in the current budgeting process could we ever think about these programs being funded with the cut-cut-cut mentality that I see daily?”

Espinosa responded, “The primary purpose of this bill is to really get away from a state-centric approach to professional development, really empower our local school districts, our local principals, out local educators to determine what works best for them, to get away from the state-mandated master plans, really put the principals and the teachers in the driver’s seat to determine what services they really need, and then obviously to ensure that there is a support agency – namely the West Virginia Department of Education – that will support those clearly needed professional development efforts.”

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said school board members in his district think they have good local control now.

Espinosa replied, “This is not, again, to establish a state-mandated approach. The clear intent of this legislation is to have that West Virginia Department of Education as a support agency.”

The education audit said West Virginia’s education system was very fragmented, he said.

Getting rid of the Regional Education Service Agencies, which was mandated by a bill passed last year, is reducing the state education bureaucracy by 40 percent, he said.

But Romano said, “The last thing I want to do in this transition is to save a measly $750,000 when I think we got efficiencies we can find in many other places.” He added that he was concerned about relying on the findings of a six-year-old audit.

Department secretary argues for keeping Education and the Arts.

When Manchin got her chance to address the committee, she said that, under her direction, the department had totally restructured its six agencies. They share services, communications and financial structure, she said, saving about $1.5 million.

Correcting Espinosa, Manchin said the Center for Professional Development is not her department’s largest agency. The largest is Volunteer West Virginia, which funds Energy Express, the oldest AmeriCorps program in the nation with more than 1,000 volunteers, she said. It is the fourth largest Americorps program in the nation, she said, and it just received the fourth largest federal grant for disaster relief – smaller only than those for California, Florida and Texas.

Manchin said the other large program under Education and the Arts is the series of honors schools for West Virginia’s best and brightest students. “The Department of Education had this program at one time and dropped it, and that’s the reason it was put under Education and the Arts,” she said.

“I understand that this was a very important bill to Delegate Espinosa, but he wrote the bill before I was ever named cabinet secretary.” – Gayle Manchin

“I understand that this was a very important bill to Delegate Espinosa, but he wrote the bill before I was ever named cabinet secretary,” Manchin said. “He wrote the bill on an old audit. And the audit did say that the office of Education and the Arts ought to be expanded. Never in that audit anywhere did it say that we should be eliminated. But more importantly, there are not a lot of states in this country that have elevated arts at a cabinet-level position. And I truly believe that it’s that attention at a cabinet level that has garnered us the attention and the awareness that we get from the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The National Endowment for the Arts is coming here for a conference in June. They have never left Washington, D.C., for a conference outside of the district. And they are coming here in June because they believe that West Virginia values art, its culture, its tradition and its history and that we promote it and we protect it.”

Romano told her, “We cannot screw around with Energy Express. I’m telling you.”

Manchin agreed and said the program fed more than 3,129 children at 82 sites last summer.

“My God, we’re playing with kids’ lives now. These kids depend on this to survive.” – Sen. Mike Romano

“My God, we’re playing with kids’ lives now,” Romano said. “These kids depend on this to survive.”

“Energy Express is a uniquely West Virginia program,” Manchin said. “I just know that federal funds and grants that have been written and put under our purview cannot just be moved. We would have to send it back. Grants would not be fulfilled. Programs would not be done, and we might even be penalized.”

Further, she expressed concern that the honors academies might not continue. Manchin added that she couldn’t imagine the Education Department taking on other programs from her department involving arts, humanities and fairs and festivals.

Asked again about what might happen if House Bill 4006 would become law, Chapman said it would be extremely complicated. Line-items in the budget cannot be moved easily, she said, and special revenue, cash accounts and federal funds are not for the legislature to move.

“Those are funds that are very specific to those programs that they came from,” Chapman said, adding that she was researching how many programs the state would get penalized for moving.

The state would be looking at paying 60 percent of the unemployment costs for 47 fulltime-equivalent employees, she said. That’s about $400,000 that is not budgeted anywhere, she said.

“Typically you look at about anywhere from 10 to 15 percent costs when you’re dismantling a government agency,” Chapman said. “Gentlemen and ladies, that is $1.9 million at 10 percent…. They’re not going to save money. It’s going to cost you more money to move that one program.”

Despite such objections, the Senate Education Committee approved House Bill 4006 and sent it to the full Senate. On Thursday, the Senate made a few changes, such as requiring the Center for Professional Development to be moved to the Education Department, not just require the Education Department to have such an agency. However, senators rejected a proposed amendment from Stollings that would move the Center for Professional Development to the Education Department while leaving the rest of the Department of Education and the Arts intact. The vote against his amendment was 15 to 18.

House Bill 4006 was scheduled for a final vote in the Senate today. If approved, it would go back to the House of Delegates, which would be asked to concur in the changes made by the Senate.

By Jim Wallace

A deadlock in a Senate committee this week killed a bill for alternative teacher certification that the House narrowly passed last month. Several members of the Senate Education Committee expressed misgivings about House Bill 4407 after hearing from the Education Department that it was not needed. The bill just barely passed in the House on February 13 on a vote of 50 to 48.

The alternative teacher certification process has been made available in recent years to help fill teacher vacancies across West Virginia. In October, the Education Department found that 727 positions across the state were not filled with fully certified, fulltime teachers.

The bill would remove the requirement for a person seeking to use alternative certification to have an academic major or occupational experience in the subject the person seeks to teach. The committee spent quite a bit of time discussing the bill and hearing testimony about it before Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the Education Department, said the bill was unnecessary. Her testimony came hours after two representatives of the Kanawha County schools told the committee their district has an active alternative certification program but ran into a problem with at least one applicant who fell a bit short in occupational experience.

“We think that we can accomplish almost completely the goal without a statutory enactment and looking at our guidance documents.” – Heather Hutchins

“We think that we can accomplish almost completely the goal without a statutory enactment and looking at our guidance documents,” Hutchins said. “Kanawha County, for instance, talked this morning about a year-long requirement for individuals in certain occupations, and that comes from one of our guidance documents. That is something that we can tailor. It wouldn’t even require a board waiver. We can do that through the Department of Education through the state superintendent of schools.”

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, asked her if she saw any risks in passing a broad, blanket statute such as House Bill 4407 that would be in effect statewide.

Hutchins said, “We would feel more comfortable allowing the process to take place with the Department of Education’s involvement so that there can be a system of checks and balances rather than eliminating the language in the statute.”

Romano said, “I see a real potential for abuse here if there’s not experience requirement to be able to hire really basically anybody that can pass the test for that particular subject.”

“Although we have very high confidence and trust in our counties, that possibility would technically exist,” Hutchins said. “And we do recognize that under previous leadership and previous administration that is no longer there perhaps we weren’t flexible enough and that we are certainly willing to look at that, look at our internal guidance and policies to make sure that that flexibility does exist for counties.”

Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said the Education Department needs to talk with the teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities so they can “make this a little more seamless” by making it easier for people to take classes in education. Hutchins said the department would be willing to work on that.

Asked how many waivers from the requirements the department usually grants, Hutchins said the department has not been in the habit of granting any.

“Typically, we have not been approached by the counties, so this is something that we’ll have to communicate to the counties that our former guidance document, which may have been under a previous administration, [is] too narrow,” she said. “We will take a look at that with each county on a case-by-case basis for teachers. So we have not had a background of doing that. That would be starting from this point forward doing it.”

Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, noted that lawyers cannot take the bar exam in West Virginia without having graduated from law school and that other professionals face similar requirements. If teachers are professionals, he asked, why should they be treated differently from other professionals?

Hutchins said the current alternative certification process provides a high-quality means of giving prospective teachers what they need. She said the Education Department has additional flexibility on requirements for them to qualify for the process. The department wants to look at the requirements reasonably and not arbitrarily, she said, adding that the department’s guidance document might have been “unnecessarily rigid.”

Unger said House Bill 4407 would open the process so much that someone with a degree in English could pass the test for math and could teach math. “I just find this very insulting,” he said.

Bill gets amended before being defeated.

At that point, Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, offered an amendment that would have allowed someone with just a college minor in a subject to qualify for the alternative certification process rather than requiring a major in the subject. He said he was trying to find the middle ground.

“The department has already indicated that they can take care of this without a bill. Why are we trying to put lipstick on a pig?” – Sen. Bob Plymale

But Plymale objected. “The department has already indicated that they can take care of this without a bill,” he said. “Why are we trying to put lipstick on a pig?”

A big reason West Virginia school districts have such a shortage of qualified teachers is because the pay has not been good enough, Plymale said. “We just raised the pay,” he said, referring to the 5 percent pay raise the legislature passed this week to end the nine-day teachers’ strike. “Let’s see how that works. Let’s address these issues.”

Further, Plymale noted, someone with a minor in a subject would only have to have 12 college credit-hours in it, which would not be enough in his opinion.

“This is no easy position to be in,” he said. “A teacher is a respected position. You got to respect it, and this just further diminishes what you’re trying to do with the system you have right now. I think we’ve done alternative certification three or four times in the last 10 years.”

Reiterating that the biggest obstacle to filling teaching position has been pay, Plymale said, “This bill is not needed.”

“I agree,” Trump said. “If we had salaries to where we would all like them to be for our public educators, this wouldn’t be a problem or it would be less of a problem, and this legislature has taken a pretty good step in the last week to try to move things in that direction.”

“Until we know we’ve solved the problem with compensation increases, maybe the thing to do is to attack the problem on multiple fronts.” – Sen. Charles Trump

However, he said, the 5 percent raise for the next school year might not be enough to solve the problem of teacher vacancies. “Until we know we’ve solved the problem with compensation increases, maybe the thing to do is to attack the problem on multiple fronts,” Trump said. “This is sort of my idea of a compromise position on a second front of the vacancy problem.”

“Once again, we’re eroding the profession,” Plymale said. “And that’s the concern I have with this.”

Trump responded, “I understand that, and all I can say is that, if the amendment is adopted, there would be less erosion than if the bill is reported without the amendment.”

“I would say that, when erosion happens, it continues,” Plymale replied.

The committee adopted the amendment on a voice vote, but opposition to the bill remained strong.

“I’ve never been a fan of any alternative teaching programs here in the state of West Virginia,” Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, said, adding that he comes from a family of teachers. “I look at this as just a dumbing down of the process. These are not teachers; these are just bodies in a classroom who happen to know the material.”

“It’s an insult to every teacher.” – Sen. Bob Beach

Beach said teachers receiving the alternative certification, as provided by the bill, wouldn’t understand teaching methodologies and philosophies. “It’s an insult to every teacher,” he said, repeating that the bill was not needed.

When the committee’s vice-chairman, Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur – sitting in for the absent chairman, Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe – called for a vote on House Bill 4407, Democrats insisted on a roll call vote rather than a voice vote. Six members voted for the bill and six voted against it. Lacking the support of a majority of the committee, the bill died.

Senators supporting the bill included these Republicans: Michael Azinger, Donna Boley, Sue Cline, Chandler Swope, Charles Trump and Robert Karnes. Those voting against it included Republican Patricia Rucker and these Democrats: Bob Beach, Bob Plymale, Mike Romano, Ron Stollings and John Unger. Had Mann or Sen. Mark Drennan, R-Putnam, been present, the fate of the bill might have been different.

Before the meeting ended, Boley, R-Pleasants, suggested the legislature should pass a resolution calling for study on how to increase student achievement. Hank Hager, counsel for the committee, said such a resolution already was being prepared.

By Jim Wallace

As the 60-day regular session for the West Virginia Legislature entered its penultimate day, more than a dozen education bills still had a chance to become law and join a few others already signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice. The bills still in the running cover a wide range of issues from child sexual abuse to teacher induction to the selection of instructional materials. Several bills were scheduled for final votes in either the House of Delegates or the Senate today.

Among was Senate Bill 244, which would specify the conditions in which it is unlawful to possess a firearm at school-sponsored functions. It would allow someone to have a gun on school property as long as it is locked in a person’s vehicle. The Senate approved the bill on a vote of 34 to nothing on February 6.

On Thursday, the House debated over an amendment proposed by Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, to keep guns off of municipally owned property that is used for school-sponsored functions, such as municipal recreation centers. That has been an issue in Charleston, which won a lawsuit last year against the pro-gun rights West Virginia Citizens Defense League over gun bans at city recreation centers. Mayor Danny Jones has threatened to close the recreation centers if they must allow guns on their premises.

Speaking in favor of the amendment, Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, argued, “We should probably err on the side of our children and our youth.”

But Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, spoke against the amendment, saying it would create a new felony and restrict Second Amendment rights. Also speaking against the amendment, Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, said a sign on the door of a recreation center prohibiting guns wouldn’t stop an armed person with evil intent.

“He’s already decided he’s going to do something horrific,” Wilson said. “A sign’s not going to stop him. I’ll tell you what though: I might be able to if I’m standing there with a weapon.”

But Delegate Charlotte Lane, R-Kanawha, said it is “really common sense” to ban guns at recreation centers. “I don’t understand why we would want to include rec centers for where we carry guns,” she said.

“Maybe we just haven’t met our quota of gun bills this year, but I will also warn the body they’re going to be back next year, and they’re going to be asking for something else. As a gun owner in West Virginia, I cannot tell you any ways that my rights have been infringed upon. I feel pretty free to carry a gun in West Virginia.” – Delegate Mike Pushkin

Concluding debate on his amendment, Pushkin expressed concern that a child might get hold of a gun brought in by an adult. He said he understood that the National Rifle Association and the Citizens Defense League had put Senate Bill 244 on their legislative agenda this year.

“Maybe we just haven’t met our quota of gun bills this year, but I will also warn the body they’re going to be back next year, and they’re going to be asking for something else,” Pushkin said. “As a gun owner in West Virginia, I cannot tell you any ways that my rights have been infringed upon. I feel pretty free to carry a gun in West Virginia.”

Pushkin asked when legislators might say no to further loosening of restrictions on guns. Referring to the prohibition against guns at the Capitol, he said, “We’re in a gun-free zone right now, and if that’s the way you fell about it, let’s take down the metal detectors and let everybody carry in this building right now.”

The House defeated his amendment on a vote of 18 to 79. After another debate this morning that lasted more than 38 minutes, the House approved Senate Bill 244 on a vote of 86 to 12. Because of a change the House made in the bill, it must go back to the Senate for concurrence before it can be sent to the governor.

The Senate had a few bills affecting education scheduled for final votes today. They included:

  • House Bill 3089, which would provide for a transition toward giving county school boards more flexibility in adopting instructional resources. The House passed the bill January 22 on a vote of 72 to 24.
  • House Bill 4428, which would allow training hours earned through public school education or apprenticeship to count towards an applicant’s occupational certification and/or licensure. House passed it February 20 on a vote of 96 to nothing. The Senate amended the bill, so it would have to return to the House for further consideration if the Senate would pass the bill today.
  • House Bill 2799, which would prohibit a superintendent of schools from requiring a physical examination to be included in the application for a minor’s work permit unless it would be required by the prospective employer. The House approved the bill January 30 on a vote of 91 to four. Passage today by the Senate would send it back to the House to consider changes made by the Senate.

Another bill approved by the Senate this week already is waiting for the House to decide whether to accept Senate changes. It’s House Bill 4042, which would redefine the definition of “school zone” to allow school zone signs to be put up in places where school property is not directly adjacent to highways. The House approved it February 20 on a vote of 96 to nothing. The Senate amended it and then approved it 33 to nothing Wednesday and then requested the House to concur in the change.

Other bills are done for this session.

Several other bills completed the legislative process in the past week and are either awaiting action from the governor or already have received his signature. One of them is Senate Bill 319, which would make individuals who complete homeschooling eligible for the PROMISE scholarship without having to obtain a diploma equivalent such as a General Equivalency Degree (GED) or the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC).

The Senate approved the bill February 20 on a vote of 34 to nothing after removing the requirement for students to have grade-point averages of at least 3.0 to qualify for PROMISE. This week, the House restored the 3.0 GPA requirement.

“This amendment would basically put that back in and keep it as it is currently today where all students have to have that 3.0.” – Delegate Paul Espinosa

“This is keeping the code as it is today,” House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, explained Monday. “The Senate removed that provision. This amendment would basically put that back in and keep it as it is currently today where all students have to have that 3.0.”

On Tuesday, the House approved Senate Bill 319 on a vote of 93 to six. On Wednesday, the Senate accepted the House amendment on a vote of 32 to nothing and sent the bill to the governor.

Other bills awaiting action from the governor include:

  • Senate Bill 364, which would allow a parent or legal guardian of a homeschooled child to provide a signed statement in lieu of a driver eligibility certificate by a school attendance director or chief administrator affirming that the child is being educated in accordance with law and is making satisfactory academic progress and meets certain conditions to be eligible to obtain a permit or license for operation of a motor vehicle. The Senate approved the bill February 5 on a vote of 33 to nothing. The House approved it last Friday on a vote of 97 to one and sent it to the governor.
  • Senate Bill 465, which would clarify mandatory reporting requirements for suspected child abuse or neglect, including child sexual abuse. It would require reporting to be done within 24 hours and be made directly to police or the Department of Health and Human Resources rather than going through a supervisor, such as a principal or superintendent. It would implement recommendations of a task force on child sexual abuse. The Senate passed it on a vote of 33 to nothing on February 27. The House approved it Wednesday on a vote of 97 to nothing and sent it to the governor.
  • Senate Bill 561, which would increase the minimum contract price requiring the execution of a bond for the building or repairing of school property. It would go up from $100 to $25,000. The Senate passed it February 26 on a vote of 33 to one. The House approved it Monday on a vote of 97 to two and sent it to the governor.
  • House Bill 4138, which would require all schools and day cares that use heating systems or other devices that emit carbon monoxide to install carbon monoxide detectors. The bill passed in the House on a vote of 95 to one on February 2. The Senate changed it and approved it last Friday on a vote of 33 to one. Later that day, the House accepted the changes and voted 93 to one to approve the bill and send it to the governor.
  • House Bill 4183, which would remove certain restrictions on achievement tests that must be administered to nonpublic students. The House passed the bill January 29 on a vote of 96 to nothing. The Senate amended it and passed it Wednesday on a vote of 33 to nothing. On Thursday, the House concurred with the Senate on a vote of 98 to nothing and sent the bill to the governor.
  • House Bill 4402, which would revoke the teaching certificate of anyone convicted of any offense that would require the person to register as a sex offender. The House approved it February 16 on a vote of 96 to nothing. The Senate amended it and passed it Saturday on a vote of 34 to nothing. On Monday, the House accepted the Senate changes, passed it on a vote of 99 to nothing and sent it to the governor.
  • House Bill 4478, which would to authorize public schools to create a Shared Table program to allow for distribution of excess school food to students and others who have food insecurities. The House passed the bill February 21 on a vote of 97 to one. The Senate amended it and approved it Tuesday on a vote of 34 to nothing. On Wednesday, the House accepted the Senate changes on a vote of 96 to one and sent the bill to the governor.
  • House bill 4619, which would direct 20 percent of the growth in local share money to be used to support the implementation of comprehensive systems for teacher and leader induction and professional growth. New provisions also would include the factors to be taken into account in making allocations to the counties, provide that a district may not receive less than the 2016-2017 allocation from line items for teacher and principal mentorships, and require that the moneys allocated would be used for implementation of comprehensive systems for teacher and leader induction and professional growth. The House passed it February 23 on a vote of 92 to nothing. The Senate approved it last Friday on a vote of 33 to nothing and sent it to the governor.

A bill the governor already has signed into law is Senate Bill 62, which would allow counties to hire persons with professional administrative certificates and five years of experience as attendance directors. The governor signed it on February 22.

Several other education bills seemed to be dead for this legislative session, barring any extraordinary moves to revive them. They include:

  • Senate Bill 284, which would try to improve the quality of the state’s workforce by increasing access to career education through the establishment of Advanced Career Education (ACE) programs and the West Virginia Invests Grant Program. Although the Senate passed it, it went to the House Education Committee, where it failed to move.
  • Senate Bill 335, which would have required union members to tell an employer, such as a school board, annually that they wanted their union dues withheld from their paychecks. This was one of the bills that angered teachers and school service workers and added to their decision to strike for nine days. The Senate passed the bill on a vote of 20 to 13 on February 9. It then went to the House Judiciary Committee, which did not act on it.
  • Senate Bill 494, which would have prevented the presidents of the teachers’ unions from accruing years of credit in the Teachers Retirement System during the time they serve their unions rather than work in the schools. This was another bill that angered teachers and contributed to their desire to strike. The Senate passed the bill on February 20 on a vote of 19 to 14. It went to the House Pensions and Retirement Committee, where it failed to move.
  • Senate Bill 507, which would have established magnet schools on the campuses of colleges and universities throughout West Virginia. It would have created the Katherine Johnson Academy, which would have facilitated the creation of magnet school programs through collaboration agreements among the academy, the state school board, the Higher Education Policy Commission and colleges and universities in West Virginia. Under the collaboration agreements, students attending a magnet school could have received both college credit and credit toward their high school diplomas for courses they successfully completed. Senate passed it February 27 on a vote of 32 to one. It went to the House Education Committee, where it failed to move.
  • Senate Bill 534, which would have increased the penalty for using tobacco and tobacco-derived products on school property. The Senate passed it February 28 on a vote of 32 to one. It went to the House Judiciary Committee, which failed to move it.
  • Senate Bill 572, which would have established the Farm-To-School Grant Program. The Senate passed it February 27 on a vote of 33 to nothing. It went to the House Education Committee, which approved it and sent it to the House Finance Committee, which did not act on it.
  • Senate Bill 573, which originally was written to provide that the instructional term for students would begin on the Tuesday after Labor Day and end the Friday before Memorial Day. However, it was changed to deal just with the used of additional instructional minutes. The Senate passed it 34 to nothing on February 26, but the House Education Committee declined to take it up.
  • House Bill 3061, which would have encouraged a limited cohort of not more than 20 schools to implement mastery-based education through the Innovation in Education program. The House passed it February 22 on a vote of 97 to nothing. It went to the Senate Education Committee, which failed to act on it.
  • House Bill 4625, which would have allocated a portion of any general revenue surplus accruing after a fiscal year to the Public Employees Insurance Agency Financial Stability Fund. It was one way to address the PEIA funding problems that were a factor in the strike by teachers and school service workers. The House passed it February 22 on a vote of 98 to nothing. It then went to the Senate Finance Committee, which failed to act on it.

One other bill was close to a final vote in the Senate this past week until it was put on hold by being referred to the Senate Rules Committee. That means it could be dead or it could be revived in time to pass before the regular legislative session ends at midnight Saturday evening. House Bill 4219 would permit employees of educational services cooperatives to participate in the state Teachers Retirement System. It also would permit persons employed for instructional services by educational services cooperatives to participate in the state Teachers’ Defined Contribution Retirement System. The House passed it February 23 on a vote of 92 to nothing. The Senate had it up for a vote last Saturday but instead sidelined it by sending it to the Rules Committee. If the Senate would bring it out of that committee and up for a vote, it could complete the legislative process. If not, it would die.

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Editor’s Note – Jim Wallace is a former government reporter for the Charleston Daily Mail, former news director of West Virginia Public Radio and former news director of WWVA/WOVK radio in Wheeling. He now works for TSG Consulting, a public relations and governmental affairs company with offices in Charleston and Beckley. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from The Ohio State University and a master’s degree in journalism from West Virginia University. Wallace is the author of the 2012 book,A History of the West Virginia Capitol: The House of State.