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The Thrasher Group

February 14, 2019 - Volume 39 Issue 6

By Jim Wallace

It is safe to say that Senate Bill 451, the omnibus education bill, has received more attention and more hours of discussion and debate than any other bill in this year’s session of the West Virginia Legislature. But after its long and rocky course through the Senate and now the House of Delegates, it’s far from safe to predict what the final outcome of the bill will be.

The bill, which includes the 5 percent pay raises Gov. Jim Justice proposed for teachers and school service workers, was scheduled for its third and final reading in the House today. That’s the stage at which a bill is either approved or rejected. It comes after the House spent more than 10 hours considering dozens of amendments to the bill on Wednesday. That followed several hours of discussion in the House Finance Committee Monday and Tuesday, two public hearings totaling about four hours on Monday, and several hours of discussion in the House Education Committee last week.

Of course, all of those discussions followed many hours of deliberation in the Senate, including the unusual step of holding a meeting of the Committee of the Whole – the entire Senate – apparently to avoid the possibility the bill might not have had enough votes to survive in the Senate Finance Committee.

Unlike in the Senate, where Republicans had just enough support with votes of 18 to 16 to push through their most controversial proposals, many Republicans abandoned those proposals in the House. In particular, provisions for charter schools and education savings accounts failed by large margins after very long debates.

One amendment debated Wednesday evening would have expanded the number of charter schools that would be permitted. Instead of allowing just two of them in a pilot program, it would have allowed five (or six if the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind would participate). That amendment went down on a vote of 40 to 59 even though Republicans hold 59 of the seats in the House to just 41 for the Democrats (although one Republican, Larry Kump of Berkeley County, has missed much of the session while recovering from surgery).

“Why should West Virginia parents, students and teachers not have the same options that 44 states and the District of Columbia have for their students?” – Delegate Paul Espinosa

“Why shold West Virginia parents, students and teachers not have the same options that 44 states and the District of Columbia have for their students?” Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, asked in arguing for the charter schools amendment, which he co-sponsored. The Senate-passed version of the bill would have permitted an unlimited number of charter schools.

But opponents argued that allowing just five would be too much for a pilot program. “We should strike the word ‘pilot’ and accept that we have gone full-bore,” Delegate John Doyle said in reference to the situation the state would be in if the amendment were approved.

However, another amendment that would have removed the entire section about charter schools from the bill could not generate enough support to pass. It received approval from just 45 delegates, while 49 opposed it. So the bill moved forward with the provision for just two charter schools.

Another amendment to restore provisions for education savings accounts fared even worse than the proposal to expand the number of charter schools. It went down to defeat with support from only 37 delegates and opposition from 62. The education savings accounts would have allowed parents to receive public funds for use in sending their children to private schools or home-schooling or other education-related purposes.

Unlike the ESAs proposed in the Senate version, those in the House amendment would have limited them to use for students with special needs or who have been subjected to bullying.

“This is a terrible idea,” he said. “It’s a waste of money.” – Delegate Larry Rowe

Although Delegate Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley, called it a “freedom bill for families” and other supports of ESAs made similar comments, Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, was among those who argued against ESAs. “This is a terrible idea,” he said. “It’s a waste of money.”

House reverses courses on raising levies.

The House went both ways on an amendment that would have removed a section to allow county school boards to raise local school levies to the constitutionally maximum level. The original Senate version of the bill would have allowed school boards to raise levies on their own, but the House version would require votes of the people to approve such levy increases.

Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, led an effort to adopt the amendment that would have removed that whole section from the bill. That effort was initially successful, winning approval by a vote of 50 to 49. But after initially supporting that amendment, Delegate David Kelly, R-Tyler, asked for it to be reconsidered. Delegate Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, worked hard to get that reconsideration and then defeat of the amendment. The House voted 51 to 47 in favor of reconsideration and then rejected Linville’s amendment on a vote of 47 to 52.

But the House did make a change in the way school boards could increase levies by voting 94 to five to accept an amendment promoted by Delegate Terri Sypolt, R-Preston, to require such votes to occur in general elections, not special elections. Some delegates argued that fewer voters tend to turn out for special elections.

Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, led another successful move to get the House to adopt an amendment to put law enforcement personnel in every public school. Some opponents complained about the cost, which was estimated at $40.5 million, but the House approved the amendment on a vote of 82 to 17. That vote came one day shy of today’s anniversary of the shooting episode at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead.

“This is an investment for the safety of our kids.” – Delegate Isaac Sponaugle

“This is an investment for the safety of our kids,” Sponaugle said.

Another change the House made Wednesday was to increase the bonus meant to improve attendance among educators. The bill already contained a $500 bonus for those who use no more than four of their 15 personal leave days during the school year. The amendment would increase the bonus to $1,000.

Some delegates argued that the cost of boosting the bonus would be too high, while others argued that it would be cheaper than the $86 million a year that schools are now paying for substitute teachers.

Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, who led the fight for the amendment, said, “If you’re for saving your counties money, if you’re for keeping those teachers in the classroom to create a better product for students, you’re for this amendment.”

In the end, 65 delegates voted for the amendment, while only 33 voted against it.

Another amendment that passed without much debate and with just a voice vote would allow school boards to suspend or dismiss school personnel on the basis of a finding of abuse by the Department of Health and Human Resources or because of a job-related misdemeanor. That was apparently a reaction to reports of abuse of a student at Berkeley Heights Elementary School in Berkeley County several days ago. The four sponsors of that amendment – Delegates Paul Espinosa, Tom Bibby, Marshall Wilson and Daryl Cowles – all are from the Eastern Panhandle.

The House originally had about three dozen amendments to consider Wednesday, although a few were withdrawn by their sponsors. Some passed quickly on voice votes, but others were subject to debates that lasted more than an hour or 90 minutes or more. The House began its floor session Wednesday about eleven o’clock in the morning. It put Senate Bill 451 at the end of its agenda and began debate on the amendments shortly after noon. After approving the much-amended version of the bill on a vote of 61 to 38, the House adjourned for the day at 10:38 p.m.

If the House would approve the bill today, it would go back to the Senate. If the Senate would not accept the House changes, the bill would go to a conference committee to work out the differences.

Bill already had a difficult trip through House committees.

Before the bill reached the full House of Delegates, it had to go through two committees, which took different approaches. Last week, the House Education Committee changed the bill significantly from the version the Senate passed on a vote of 18 to 16. The committee stripped from the bill or changed some of the most controversial provisions the Senate put in it.

For example, the House Education Committee limited the number of charter schools to just two in a pilot program instead of allowing an unlimited number, as the Senate-passed version would do. The committee also removed provisions for education savings accounts.

When Senate Bill 451 reached the House Finance Committee Monday, a provision for education savings accounts was put back into it, and the number of charter schools was expanded to five with a sixth as a possibility if the state school board would want to convert the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind.

House Finance Committee leaders tried to make those changes even though the vast majority of people who testified at the two public hearings on Monday expressed opposition to Senate Bill 451.

Of the 85 people who testified in the morning hearing, 64 opposed the bill, 19 supported it and two supported parts of the bill but not all of it, at least in the version the Senate passed. In the evening hearing, 75 people testified with 62 of them against the bill and 13 in favor of it. Among those who spoke in the evening, one opponent of the bill and four supporters had also spoken in the morning hearing, so the unduplicated total was 155 participants with 125 of them against the bill, 28 in favor of it, and two offering just partial support.

The bill’s opponents included: members of the state school board and local school boards; administrators, teachers and school service workers from many counties; parents from around the state; and others. Those in favor of the bill included other parents, leaders of religious schools, leaders of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, and representatives of national organizations that support such issues as charter schools and education savings accounts.

“It is a bad bill for education. It will not have a positive impact on West Virginia’s educational deficiencies, except for raising salaries that will allow us to recruit higher-qualified teachers.” – Karen Nance

“It is a bad bill for education,” Karen Nance, a former member of the Cabell County school board, said. “It will not have a positive impact on West Virginia’s educational deficiencies, except for raising salaries that will allow us to recruit higher-qualified teachers.”

Hancock County Supt. Tim Woodward said comprehensive change in schools is not possible without comprehensive change in communities. “Our children are in poverty,” he said. “I see children every day who are eaten from head to toe by infestations of bed bugs. I see children who have less access to education because of the color of their skin. I see children who live in poverty levels that you and I cannot imagine. Build me a charter school to fix that, and I’ll be the first to sign up. Until we face the fact that schools are a symptom, not the problem, we’re going to go round and round.”

Cathi Bradley, president of the West Virginia Association of Elementary and Middle School Principals, said, “Families have every right to opt out of the public school system, but they should not expect public funds to support whatever private option they may choose. Charter schools are private schools in disguise. They receive public funds but operate with little of the accountability, oversight or transparency that we rightly expect of public institutions.”

Natalie Laliberty, an elementary school principal from Kanawha County, criticized Senate Republicans, particularly Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, who developed the bill along lines promoted by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). “Shame on you, Mr. Mitch, for floating this trial balloon of deception,” she said.

Rose Rossana, vice present and legislative chairwoman of the West Virginia Parent-Teacher Association, also opposed the bill. “Even the most thoughtfully designed charter school programs have failed to achieve meaningful positive effects on student achievement,” she said. “Furthermore, there is no evidence that competition improves the performance of public schools. The PTA believes that Senate Bill 451 will cripple public education on so many levels.”

“Charter schools are designed to serve the best and brightest. Charter schools lack transparency. And something not being heard: Charter schools will affect the passage of county board excess levies and bonds. Passage of excess levies and bonds prove to be matters that are not only critical but maintain many counties. Many counties have never been able to pass a levy or a bond, and with this added into the mix, may never be able to again.” – Lori Kestner

Lori Kestner, a Marshall County school board member and president of the West Virginia School Board Association, said charter schools would not work in West Virginia, “Charter schools are designed to serve the best and brightest. Charter schools lack transparency. And something not being heard: Charter schools will affect the passage of county board excess levies and bonds. Passage of excess levies and bonds prove to be matters that are not only critical but maintain many counties. Many counties have never been able to pass a levy or a bond, and with this added into the mix, may never be able to again.”

Amy Neal, head of the American Federation of Teachers in Cabell County, said the bill reminded her of a college student who runs low on quarters and puts all the laundry in the wash at the same time. “You throw it all in, and the white shirts come out either pink or gray,” she said. “Just like that laundry, this bill needs to be separated.”

Lyle Sattes, a former House Education Committee chairman, said, “The basic purpose of Senate Bill 451 is to use public funds for private education. This is a line that should never be crossed. Never! Never! This bill cannot be amended into anything helpful and should be defeated, and then the hard work of meaningful education reform should begin.”

Jill Lafear, a Cabell County parent, said, “We don’t need charter schools to fix the problems in public schools. We can simply fix the problems in public schools.”

Among those who supported the bill was Barry Holstein, who identified himself as a parent and a taxpayer. He said, “The freedom to choose is a powerful tool. The bill that originated from the Senate provided parents with choices.” He cited provisions in the original version for charter schools and education savings accounts. He also supported a provision of the bill’s original version that would downgrade seniority in employment decisions for teachers.

Kathie Crouse, who has homeschooled her children, said, “Parents and students are desperate for change. They are desperate for options and choices. This is your time to make history.”

“We believe that every child in West Virginia should have access to a high-quality education regardless of their income or ZIP code, and we believe that ESAs would be an important step forward in achieving that goal.” – Jason Huffman

Jason Huffman, state director for Americans for Prosperity, urged the House to put provisions for education savings accounts back into the bill. “We believe that every child in West Virginia should have access to a high-quality education regardless of their income or ZIP code, and we believe that ESAs would be an important step forward in achieving that goal.”

Scott Fairchild, a parent whose children have been homeschooled, asked, “If public schools are so good, why is there any fear that there will be a mass exodus of students to go to charter schools? Why does this House think so little of parents of school children that we cannot make the best decision for our children?”

Bill took odd turn in one committee.

The House Finance Committee considered the bill for about two-and-a-half hours on Monday afternoon, took a break during which the second public hearing was held, and then resumed considering the bill about eight o’clock in the evening. During that meeting, Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, suggested that legislators were flirting with triggering another statewide strike of teachers and school service workers. At a meeting in Flatwoods Saturday, leaders of AFT-WV, the West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association announced they had received authorization from their local units around the state to call a strike, if necessary.

“Our teachers, our service personnel, they don’t want a repeat of last year. But I will tell you, we’re listening to them. And they’re upset.” – Fred Albert

“Our teachers, our service personnel, they don’t want a repeat of last year,” he said. “But I will tell you, we’re listening to them. And they’re upset.”

Albert said the unions were encouraged by the changes the House Education Committee had made in the bill but considered the changes the House Finance Committee was trying to make as putting it “kind of back to not so pretty good.”

National advocates of charter schools and education savings accounts who had spoken in previous legislative meetings also spoke to the Finance Committee. They included Emily Schultz of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools and Rachelle Engen of the Institute for Justice and Emily Schultz.

But the committee also heard from Joshua Weishart, a West Virginia University law professor, who brought up a potential new problem with the proposal to create charter schools. He said the West Virginia Constitution requires voter approval if any new independent free school district or organization is to be created.

“The latest version that I saw of this bill defines public school charters in such a way as to make them independent and free organizations,” Weishart said. “That’s the whole point of having a charter school: that they would exempt from certain regulations imposed upon traditional public schools. So it seems by my reading of the Constitution, by my reading of the bill…that it would require voter approval before any charter school could be created.”

Democrats on the committee were unable to bring in others to testify to the committee about problems with the bill. Because of a parliamentary provision prohibiting an amendment to an amendment to an amendment, they also were prevented from making changes in the bill that evening.

But then, when the committee voted on the revised version of the bill with an expansion of charter schools and education savings accounts favored by Republican leaders, the committee rejected it on a vote of 13 to 12. In that vote, three Republicans – Bill Anderson, R-Wood; Erikka Storch, R-Ohio; and Steve Westfall, R-Jackson – crossed over to vote with the Democrats. That left just the version of the bill approved by the House Education Committee. The House Finance Committee met Tuesday morning and voted 17 to eight shortly before eight o’clock to send that version to the full House.

House Education Committee made big changes.

One of the first actions the House Education Committee took when it received Senate Bill 451 last week was to substitute its own version of the bill in place of the version the Senate passed the previous Monday. That new version stripped out or altered several of the most controversial provisions of the bill. For example, it removed the non-severability clause and the so-called paycheck protection provision, capped the number of charter schools at six (which it changed again Thursday evening), removed the provision for virtual charter schools, and limited education savings accounts to 2,500 students with special needs (before removing provisions for ESAs entirely).

The non-severability clause would have trashed all provisions in the bill, including promised pay raises for teachers and school service personnel, if court action would reject any single provision of the bill. It is more common for a bill to have a severability clause, which allows most of the bill’s provisions to survive even if one is thrown out by a court.

The so-called payroll protection provision would have prevented school employees’ authorization to have union dues deducted from their paychecks from rolling over automatically from one year to the next. To keep the dues payments flowing, the employees would have to reauthorize the deductions each year. That was one of the anti-labor provisions, as many people saw it, that Senate leaders put into the bill in retaliation for last year’s nine-day, statewide teachers’ strike.

The House Education Committee also changed another provision seen as anti-labor. It would have withheld wages during a work stoppage but was changed to allow for those wages to be repaid once school days are made up.

ESA provisions would be difficult for Treasurer’s Office.

On Friday, before the House Education Committee removed the provisions for education savings accounts, members learned from Diana Stout, general counsel for the state Treasurer’s Office, that her agency would have problems with the ESAs under the original provisions of the bill. For example, she said, the office does not have experts on public education and would have to hire at least three people to handle the provisions of the bill. She estimated that would cost at least $250,000 for salaries and benefits.

Also, Stout said, program expenses would be high in the beginning because of issues regarding potential taxability and the establishment of the program. She estimated needing $100,000 for external counsel to assist in development of the program and provide for general operations and about $150,000 for other contracts. She said the total of the program would be about $625,000 the first year, $375,000 the second year and $350,000 each year after that.

Stout said her office would have to hire a director, an administrative assistant and a certified public accountant to monitor and handle the accounts. “That’s what your legislation requires,” she said. “It requires random audits, and so for us, that would basically be examining almost every single transaction to make sure that we’re not having an issue.”

Asked about how her office would track purchases and monitor for fraud in the use of ESAs, Stout said the Treasurer’s Office would have to have someone on staff to do random audits and engage a firm to do post-audit work.

“We expect that we’ll get hit with litigation if this is enacted, so we’ve estimated about $200,000 for legal fees.” – Diana Stout

Nevada never got its program operational because of litigation, she said, and that’s one reason her cost estimate for the first year is so high. “We expect that we’ll get hit with litigation if this is enacted, so we’ve estimated about $200,000 for legal fees,” she said.

The few other states that have tried to establish ESAs have taken different approaches, Stout said. Florida does a scholarship-like program and two voucher programs, while another state does a program similar to 529 savings plans, she said. But part of the issue with the ESA provisions in the original version of Senate Bill 451 was the breadth of what was listed as authorized expenses because they wouldn’t quite fit into any existing model, she said.

In regard to limiting or preventing fraud, Stout said, one state uses debit cards without any auditing because state officials took the attitude that misuse is the problem of the people using the money, not the state. She said another state dramatically limited what the money could be used for, so it didn’t have a major issue with fraud.

Stout said Senate Bill 451 would have had the Treasurer’s Office approve educational providers and then only authorized entities would be able to accept the ESA debit card. If someone would by a laptop computer and turn around to sell it, her office couldn’t do anything because the equipment wouldn’t be state property and the office would be unable to monitor it.

The bill listed no penalty in the case of fraud, she said, so the state could probably just seek reimbursement of misused funds. Delegate Ralph Rodighiero, D-Logan, said, because of West Virginia’s drug epidemic, he would recommend total oversight of any ESA purchases.

Estep-Burton asked how the Treasurer’s Office would monitor whether items were used for educational purposes.

“We can’t go in people’s homes and try to figure out whether or not they still have a computer or whether or not they still have the textbooks.” – Diana Stout

“There’s a lot of questions about this.” Stout said. “Until we are actually operational, it’s hard to tell exactly what we could do. But at this stage, I don’t know of any real way for us to monitor. We can’t go in people’s homes and try to figure out whether or not they still have a computer or whether or not they still have the textbooks.”

Another potential problem with the ESA provisions was taxability. Stout said the expenses listed for ESAs in the bill were much broader than what the Internal Revenue Service lists as eligible education expenses. “Some of the expenditures may exceed what the IRS permits,” she said, so ESA users could face unexpected tax liabilities. For example, she said, tuition would be eligible, but after-school care would not.

Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, then said, “Let’s assume this bill passes. I guess you guys would have to go into high gear immediately to be ready for a fall semester. Would you have all these rules and so forth ready to go at that time?”

“If you’re going to authorize emergency rules, we probably could,” South said. “But I don’t recall if the bill authorizes emergency rules or not, so I would say we probably could not be operational this fall if that’s the case.”

“Interesting,” Evans replied.

Asked whether the Treasurer’s Office would structure the ESA program as a debit-card-based program or a reimbursement-based program like Florida’s program, Stout said, “We anticipate that a lot of the families could probably not work to fund the money, and a reimbursement program probably would not be in order for everybody. There’ll clearly be people that can afford to pay and seek their reimbursement, but a lot of the people, we anticipate, would not be able to do that, so we would expect to implement a debit card.”

Asked if the Treasurer’s Office might be sued for giving state funds to sectarian schools, Stout said that could be one basis for a lawsuit, but there would be many more.

The bill listed no penalty in the case of fraud, she said, so the state could probably just seek reimbursement of misused funds. Delegate Ralph Rodighiero, D-Logan, said, because of West Virginia’s drug epidemic, he would recommend total oversight of any ESA purchases.

Delegate Amanda Estep-Burton, D-Kanawha, asked how the Treasurer’s Office would monitor whether items were used for educational purposes.

“There’s a lot of questions about this.” Stout said. “Until we are actually operational, it’s hard to tell exactly what we could do. But at this stage, I don’t know of any real way for us to monitor. We can’t go in people’s homes and try to figure out whether or not they still have a computer or whether or not they still have the textbooks.”

The Senate could get Senate Bill 451 back as early as Friday. It’s anyone’s guess what the bill will look like when it finishes the legislative process. A little more than three weeks are left in the 60-day regular legislative session. Legislative leaders have expressed hopes of passing a budget bill without going into an extended session, and it would be difficult for legislators to put the state budget for the next fiscal year together without knowing what financial effects the bill might have.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has sent to the Senate a bill that would make it easier for students to transfer from school district to school district despite the misgivings of many delegates.

House Bill 2554 would modify state code on county-to-county transfers and facilitate open enrollment. It would require each county to create attendance zones to designate which schools students shall attend. Further, it would remove the requirement that both counties must agree to a transfer.

As House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, explained it to fellow delegates, the bill would allow county boards to establish open enrollment policies to allow non-resident students to transfer from other counties. However, he said, each district must comply with enrollment policies for children who are in foster care or who meet the definition of unaccompanied youths. A district would not be required to provide transportation to non-resident students unless required by disabled student individualized education plans, he said.

The county to which a student transfers would include the student in its net enrollment, Hamrick said. The bill also would remove current statutory provisions regarding students returning to the districts where they reside, he said.

Delegate Rodney Miller, D-Boone, asked whether the bill would provide for transfers for any reason at all. Hamrick responded it would be up to each district to create its own open enrollment policy, and it could create preferences, if desired. However, he added, the House Education Committee amended the bill to provide that transfers could not violate rules established by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, such as those addressing recruiting. But that did not appease Miller.

“Being a high school coach, I can see all kinds of problems with this,” he said. “The problems we have already witnessed in our counties with some being selective and recruiting from one school district or one school to another, I can see lots of issues. I can see, in effect, a school or a school system setting themselves up to be very, very selective on who they bring in.”

Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, also opposed the bill because of its provision to eliminate the requirement to get permission from the home county for transfers. Saying everyone should have a say, he said, “I just feel like this legislation goes against that.”

Another delegate who spoke against the bill was John Doyle, D-Jefferson, who was unsuccessful in trying to amend it when it was before the House Education Committee.

“We all know that some high schools try to recruit athletes. This bill, as it is, makes the problem worse.” – Delegate John Doyle

“We all know that some high schools try to recruit athletes,” Doyle said. “This bill, as it is, makes the problem worse. It is also true that, by removing the provision that the county from whom the person is transferring doesn’t have any say in the matter, it gets us in a situation where a school board can [be selective about taking students]…That gets us into some pretty dangerous territory, so I’m going to oppose the bill.”

Also opposed to the bill was Delegate David Pethtel, D-Wetzel, who said he is aware of students who transfer both ways between Wetzel and Tyler counties each year. “You’ve heard the old saying: If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it,” he said. “The way we’re presently doing transfers is working perfectly.”

On the other side, two delegates spoke in favor of House Bill 2554. One of them was House Majority Whip and former chairman of the Education Committee Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson. He said the bill is really about a simple issue.

“This is just basically saying that, if the receiving district is willing to accept that student, they can’t be denied by the district they’re currently in,” he said.

Likewise, Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, said, “What we’re doing is allowing the counties to determine whether or not they want to allow their students to move to other counties because of whatever reason the student initiates…. So the intent here is to actually allow the counties to do their job, the intelligent, educated administrators to make decisions and we just get out of their business.”

“It sounds like a great idea. Let’s do this.” – Delegate Marshall Wilson

In conclusion, he said, “It sounds like a great idea. Let’s do this.”

The House voted 61 to 33 to approve House Bill 2554. The Senate has referred the bill to its Education Committee.

 

By Jim Wallace

The House Health and Human Resources Committee has approved a bill designed to handle disruptive students while keeping them in school. House Bill 2100 would require the state Department of Education to develop a pilot program to provide mental health services instead of suspending students for disruptive behaviors.

More than 50 locations in West Virginia with school-based federally qualified health clinics could qualify for participation in the pilot program, which would make school-based mental health services available for students and their families as an alternative to disciplinary measures. The cost of the program has not been determined.

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said he and several other delegates visited an elementary school in Kanawha County recently and learned about problems occurring all around the state because of drug problems. He said the school has had to expel three second-grade students.

“This generation of a lot of these children who were born into addiction are now coming of the age where they’re hitting our public schools. I applaud the efforts of the sponsors of this bill to address this alternative form of discipline, so we can keep the kids in the schools and get them the help that they need.” – Delegate Mike Pushkin

“This is the first structure they’ve had in their lives,” Pushkin said. “They get to school and teachers have no way of dealing with these students. This generation of a lot of these children who were born into addiction are now coming of the age where they’re hitting our public schools. I applaud the efforts of the sponsors of this bill to address this alternative form of discipline, so we can keep the kids in the schools and get them the help that they need.”

Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, said he has seen those problems in his role as principal of an elementary and middle school, so he also endorsed the bill.

House Bill 2100 now goes to the House Education Committee for further consideration.

 

By Jim Wallace

A bill on computer science instruction has gone to Gov. Jim Justice after getting through both the Senate and the House of Delegates.

The House voted 97 to zero on Monday to approve Senate Bill 267, which cleared the Senate last week on a vote of 31 to zero.

“The bill directs the state board to adopt a policy detailing the appropriate level of computer science instruction at each level.” – Delegate Danny Hamrick

“The bill directs the state board to adopt a policy detailing the appropriate level of computer science instruction at each level,” House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, told his colleagues just before they voted. “The Department of Education would also develop other professional development opportunities to ensure educators are equipped to deliver the best computer science curriculum. To accomplish this, the department may also partner with high-quality computer science professional learning providers.”

The department already was working on policies for computer science instruction but welcomed having the requirement put into law. The governor requested the bill, so unless his office would find some flaw in the bill, it seems almost certain he will sign it into law.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate has approved Senate Bill 14, which would establish the Farm-to-School Grant Program.

“The bill contains findings that indicate the need to encourage public schools to buy local.” – Sen. Craig Blair

“The bill contains findings that indicate the need to encourage public schools to buy local,” Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, told his colleagues. “This grant program will help accomplish this.”

The bill would create a special revenue account to be administered by the commissioner of the Department of Agriculture. The specifics of the program would be developed later.

The bill also would require reports to the governor, president of the Senate and speaker of the House on the effectiveness of the program every two years.

The Senate approved the bill on a vote of 33 to zero. The House of Delegates has assigned it to its Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources and then to its Finance Committee.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate has approved Senate Bill 26 to permit fulltime employees of educational services cooperatives to participate in the state Teachers Retirement System. It also would permit persons employed for instructional services by those cooperatives to participate in the state Teachers’ Defined Contribution Retirement System. The cooperatives are successors to the Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs), which the legislature eliminated a couple of years ago.

The Senate voted 34 to zero to pass the bill.

 

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.