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The Thrasher Group

February 20, 2020 - Volume 40 Issue 7

View the 2020 Winter Conference Agenda

Results of National School Boards Action Center nationwide survey of 1,000 likely 2020 voters with oversamples of 100 African Americans, 100 Latinx, 100 parents of school-age children, and 100 battleground voters. View Survey Results

By Howard O’Cull

While  the West Virginia Legislature has no Senate/House Joint Rules requiring bills to be reported from their committees of origin (Senate or House) by the 47th day of the session which is Sunday, Feb. 23, measures effectively have to be reported from committee by the 47th day to avoid a rule suspension and an extraordinary vote. Moreover, the date proves critical for bills to pass the house of origin by the 50th day (Wednesday, Feb. 26.)  (These provisions do not include budget or supplementary appropriation bills. (Joint Rule 5, paragraph b)

The Joint Rule reads, in part, “No bill or joint resolution shall be considered on third reading in its house of origin after the (50th) day…”

Senate Clerk Lee Cassis, commenting on the issue said, “That's where the 47th day comes in, but it is not specifically mentioned in the Joint Rule,” he said. Cassis is referring to Senate/House Joint Rule 5, which was adopted by the Legislature in 1987.

That Joint Rule has been amended three times.

The first change to the Joint Rule made its provisions applicable only to regular legislative sessions.

The third change effectively deleted a Joint Rule provision which had required  legislation requested by the governor, executive departments or agencies, to be filed in the  respective Clerk’s Offices “…not later than the (10th) day of each regular session of a Legislature.”

These Joint Rule revisions were largely  initiated in the mid-1980s by then Sen. Mike Oliverio, D-Monongalia. Through utilization of the Joint Rules revision, the Legislature has developed a mechanism whereby the 47th and 50th Day deadlines serve to discipline the two houses so that legislation from the house of origin is not jumbled or intermingled with that from the other body as was the case until the late 1980s – a process which also allowed bills to be introduced for the entirety of the session (rather than originating in committee after deadlines for bill introduction as stipulated in legislative rules.)

For the past three decades,  rule changes have prompted the Legislature to employ greater discipline in terms of management of legislation which has been enhanced by other rules changes such as the House and Senate establishing deadlines for filing bill conference committee reports.

These collective efforts at achieving what might be known as process “rationality” have served to blunt, in many ways, the axiom which to which former House Speaker Clyde See, D-Hardy, alluded: “Fat possums travel late at night.”

See was referring to a last minute flurry of activity as the legislative session was coming to its conclusion – complete with bills being scurried from house to house via students or interns some of whom venture through the crowed Capitol floors on roller skates.

Of course technology has become a the most telling factor in many legislative changes.    

Perhaps the late Yogi Berra said it aptly: “It’s not over till it’s over.”

Indeed, the legislative process, while susceptible to management and efficiency enhancements, however, remains a political process, meaning one should not presume to know the outcome of an event which is still in progress. And, to boot, a tangle of legislative rules, parliamentary procedure redoubting and fit, ensure ways to keep legislation moving or halted.

While elected officials are wise to embrace legislative process rationality which often contributes to a bettered legislative process, the political process is an admixture of competing policy goals typified by elected officials’ use of statecraft or gamesmanship to advance or better the human condition.

These ends are not mutually exclusive.

For more information, please refer to the 2020 legislative calendar as provided by the West Virginia Legislature: http://wvlegislature.gov/Bulletin_Board/calendar/calendar_2020.cfm

O’Cull is West Virginia School Board Association Executive Director

By Jim Wallace

A bill to eliminate the property taxes on manufacturing inventory and equipment and on motor vehicles was scheduled to receive the first of three required readings on the Senate floor today, and that would set it up for potential passage as early as Monday. Senate Bill 837 also would raise the sales tax and taxes on tobacco and vaping products to fill some of the gap left by the lost property tax revenue. The provisions of the bill would kick in if voters approve two constitutional amendments to get rid of the property taxes on manufacturing inventory and equipment and on motor vehicles. The sales tax would go up half a percentage point, while the tax on tobacco would go up from $1.20 per pack of cigarettes to $2.00 and the tax on vaping products would go up to an equivalent amount.

Getting those constitutional amendments on the state ballot is far from certain, but Senate Bill 837 is designed to ensure the state could react to them if they do get on the ballot and receive voter approval. The resolutions to get the proposed amendments on the ballot – Senate Joint Resolution 8 and Senate Joint Resolution 9 – would require a two-thirds vote in both the Senate and the House of Delegates. That means if all the Republicans stick together in favor of them, they would need the support of at least three Democrats in the Senate and nine Democrats in the House – and that support is far from certain.

Democrats expressed concern when Senate Bill 837 originated in the Senate Finance Committee early this week. They and others are worried that the legislature might not fully compensate the school districts, county governments and municipalities that depend on the property tax revenues and that they would be more dependent on state government than before.

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said the largest amount of property taxes is paid by out-of-state corporations. “[If] we eliminate the business inventory tax to those large corporations that are paying it now, primarily from out of state, they’re going to pocket that and take that money out of state,” he said.

But Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch said he doubted they would take all that money out of the state. “I think we’ve got testimonials that say they give their employees raises, they expand their operations,” he said. “Obviously, profits could be enhanced.”

“West Virginians are going to be the ones left to make up that hole.” – Sen. Roman Prezioso

But Prezioso remained skeptical. He said, “The bulk of that, I expect, they would take out of state. Subsequently, when we go to backfill, who’s left to pay it?” Answering his own question, he said, “West Virginians are going to be the ones left to make up that hole.”

In response, Gaunch said, “Last Wednesday, I talked to a company, and they said, ‘We have the option of expanding our facility here or the one in Ohio that does the same thing. We’d like to know what you all are going to do with the inventory and personal property tax.’”

But Prezioso noted that former Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette a few years ago said the top items companies look for are flat land and an educated workforce. Now it seems elimination of the property tax is the silver bullet, he said.

“I’m not sure silver bullet is the right word,” Gaunch said. “All of those things are critically important. We have to be competitive from a taxation standpoint, and generally speaking, we are competitive, except for this one tax, which is still kind of an outlier.”

But Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, remained skeptical. “What we’re going to do here is give relief to the corporations and let the citizens backfill it with the increase in cigarette tax, the increase in the half-percent in the sales tax,” he said. “I think we need to let everyone know what we’re doing here. We’re assuming and we’re hoping that, by taking these taxes off these businesses, that we’re going to get new businesses to come in, we’re going to help keep the businesses that are here, but the citizens are the ones that are going to backfill this.”

“It’s obvious where the increased revenue is going to come from, so you can draw your own conclusions.” – Ed Gaunch

Gaunch replied, “It’s obvious where the increased revenue is going to come from, so you can draw your own conclusions.”

Although school districts get about two-thirds of the property tax revenues, it was argued that the School Aid Formula would ensure that the state would make them whole. But the county and municipal governments might not fare so well.

Jonathan Adler, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties, said the counties’ biggest fear with that the property tax elimination would take taxing authority away from counties. While he didn’t want to doubt legislators are sincere about making sure county governments are compensated, he said they’re not sure what that really means for the county governments.

Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, pointed out that counties are seeing a decline in revenue brought in by the property tax. He suggested they might fare better if elimination of the tax on inventory and equipment would attract more companies to West Virginia.

But Adler said, “We are against it because we are concerned about [Senate Joint Resolution] 9 and we’re not sure where that’s heading.” The taxing authority would go away from counties, he said.

Sen. Chandler Swope. R-Mercer, said estimates show the counties in 10 years would get $200 million more.

“Certainly, it looks good,” Adler said, but he couldn’t say yet whether the counties would support it.

Projections vary on potential results of change.

Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow said the extra half percent sales tax would cost the average household about $100 more per year, and that household would save about as much in elimination of the property tax on vehicles.

Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, said, “For the non-smoking West Virginian – most of them – it’s a wash.”

“For some it’s a wash, but for some, they’re going to benefit, but it depends on the characteristics of the household. Those who smoke would be paying more.” – Mark Muchow

Muchow said, “For some it’s a wash, but for some, they’re going to benefit, but it depends on the characteristics of the household.” He added, “Those who smoke would be paying more.”

Revenue from the tax on manufacturing inventory and equipment is about $100 million, revenue from the tax on vehicles is $140 million to $150 million, and revenue from taxing retail inventory is about $50 million, Muchow said. All personal property tax revenue is about $578 million, and those categories account for about $300 million of that, he said.

Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said Senate Bill 837 has lots of layers and he worries about the revenue in the outer years and how it would affect the School Aid Formula. Ohio got rid of its personal property tax across the board and replaced it with a commercial activities tax, he said. That state did revenue sharing that turned out to be much lower than what counties anticipated, he said, and a recent peer-reviewed study showed that Ohio actually lost jobs because it incentivized capital.

Employment growth is not the same as investment growth, Boettner said. Ohio’s bill was estimated to create 43,250 jobs, but Ohio has seen a decline in manufacturing jobs of 100,000 since 2006. It incentivized artificial intelligence, new technology and development, which don’t always translate into jobs, he said.

New companies that come into West Virginia already don’t pay any taxes because the Economic Development Authority pays for all their property and leases it back to the companies, Boettner said. Nothing guarantees that an out-of-state company would spend money saved on taxes in West Virginia, he said. West Virginia currently ranks right in the middle among states for taxing businesses on real and personal property, he said.

“The School Aid Formula has to make up for that lost revenue. If that lowers, the state’s got to send more money.” – Ted Boettner

Asked what could happen to the education system on the local level, Boettner said about two-thirds of the revenue goes to schools, one quarter to municipalities and the rest to counties. “The School Aid Formula has to make up for that lost revenue,” he said. “If that lowers, the state’s got to send more money.” But he advised legislators to “proceed with caution” on that.

Swope said that, as a simple businessman, he favored the bill. “The needle we’re trying to move here is to get more businesses to come to West Virginia and more businesses to stay in West Virginia,” he said. “It seems interesting to me that the conversation invariably turns to these corporations that might make a profit. I don’t understand why that’s a problem.”

Saying the risk is worth taking, he added, “I cannot imagine a government 10 years from now that would not fund schools.”

However, Stollings, who is a physician, said, “When we use tobacco tax as a process, it would be nice to have some of that money go toward tobacco prevention and treatment that we’re not doing with this particular bill.” He proposed an amendment to the bill to direct $2 million from the tobacco tax funds to go to tobacco use prevention and nicotine addiction programs. That would be added to about $500,000 statewide that goes to those programs now. The committee approved that amendment without dissention.

Another physician, Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, then proposed an amendment to change the number on the vaping tax from 7.5 cents per milliliter to $1.00 per milliliter to have parity with the cigarette tax. He told the story of a 17-year-old who needed a double lung transplant after using vaping products. It’s starting to look like “an evil we’ve never seen before,” he said.

The committee approved that amendment, although at least one senator voted against it.

After conferring with Tax Commissioner Dale Steager, the committee changed the bill so it would take effect on April 1, 2021.

That set Senate Bill 837 up to head to the Senate floor today. It’s not clear when the Senate might vote on Senate Joint Resolution 8 and Senate Joint Resolution 9.

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Legislature now has two so-called Tim Tebow bills with a little more than two weeks to go in the 60-day regular session.

The latest is House Bill 3127, which came out of the House Education Committee on Tuesday. That was even though the Senate passed its own Tebow bill, Senate Bill 131, one week earlier on a vote of 24 to nine, and that bill then went to the House Education Committee.

The bills are named after a former home-schooled student who played in public school sports before going on to become a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at the University of Florida and help his team win two national championships. Supporters of the legislation have tried several times in the past to get similar bills passed. A Tebow bill got through the legislature in 2017 only to be vetoed by Gov. Jim Justice, who coaches girls’ basketball at a public school.

The big difference between the two current bills is that House Bill 3127 would apply only to home-schooled students, while Senate Bill 131 would cover students from private and religious schools as well. Home-schooled students already can qualify to compete on public school sports teams by taking at least four virtual courses available from either county school districts or the Department of Education. House Bill 3127 would reduce that requirement to just one virtual course.

When the House Education Committee considered House Bill 3127 Tuesday, members asked Bernie Dolan, executive director of the Secondary School Activities Commission, how many students might take advantage of the bill’s’ provisions. He said he wasn’t sure, although he knew some home-schooled students already have been taking virtual courses to become eligible for public school sports.

“In the counties that have their own virtual school, I believe there were about 255 students who have met the four-period eligibility, and then there’s another 14,000 courses being taken separately through the state Department of Education.” – Bernie Dolan

“In the counties that have their own virtual school, I believe there were about 255 students who have met the four-period eligibility, and then there’s another 14,000 courses being taken separately through the state Department of Education,” Dolan said. “So we don’t have a breakdown on how many of those are actually eligible because of the four periods.”

West Virginia has about 11,000 home-schooled students, he said, and this is the first full year for home-schooled students to be eligible for sports by taking virtual classes. There were issues last year that resulted in not having every county participate, he said.

“We went to the Department of Ed.,” Dolan said. “They said, if a county’s not participating, we’ll make sure we make that work for every county.”

Asked what would happen if a student would leave public school in the middle of a school year to be home-schooled, he said, the bill would keep that student from participating for 365 days, which is what the SSAC’s transfer rule does for students at member schools. He said he was glad to have such language in the bill.

“For a lot of our high schools, that’s where championships are, and that’s where people tend to do strange things to be eligible.” – Bernie Dolan

“For a lot of our high schools, that’s where championships are, and that’s where people tend to do strange things to be eligible,” Dolan said.

One of his concerns was that home-schooled students would be tested only once a year or have to turn in portfolios of their work, while students in SSAC member schools must maintain at least 2.0 grade-point averages for both semesters in a school year.

The House of Delegates had scheduled House Bill 3127 for the first of three required readings on the House floor today. That could set it up for passage as early as Monday. There has been no indication the House intends to consider Senate Bill 131.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has sent to the House Finance Committee a bill that would an automated external defibrillator and trained operator at all extramural secondary school athletic events. House Bill 4497, if passed, would be called the Alex Miller Law, in memory of a Roane County football player who collapsed and died during a game.

The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission would be expected to require the defibrillators to be present at all high school or middle school athletic events, including practices. That also would include golf courses and courses for cross-country runs when events are held in those locations.

“There is no requirement for the defibrillators to be at every school.” – Dave Mohr

“There is no requirement for the defibrillators to be at every school,” Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the House Education Committee, said. “If they have an EMT there at the football games like they usually do, it’s covered that way. Some schools already have a number of them.”

A fiscal note from the Department of Education has found there would be no cost to the state, but counties would incur an unknown cost to comply. West Virginia has 298 middle and high schools. At present, the SSAC has purchased and placed 191 AEDs at schools at a cost of $725 each. Replacement parts that are needed at periodic intervals cost about $250 per AED. The fiscal note figures that, if each school purchased one new AED, the minimum cost overall would be $216,050.00.

Sarah Stewart, legislative liaison for the Education Department, said the department doesn’t know how many schools have defibrillators or how many would be needed, but the department is looking into it.

“Most of the schools already have access to one when needed,” she said. “It is part of their emergency action plan.”

The SSAC has been proactive in trying to get them out to schools because that is part of the SSAC’s emergency action plan, she said.

At the suggestion of Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, the committee amended the bill to require a posted emergency action plan. The thinking was that such a plan would help people from visiting schools find defibrillators when they are needed.

Delegate Martin Atkinson, R-Roane, said Alex Miller was “an extraordinary young man” and passing the bill would mean a lot to his family.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates voted 89 to eight this week to pass House Bill 2775 to require public high school students to complete a full-credit course on personal finance beginning in school year 2021-2022.

“It requires that every high school student must complete a one-credit course of study in personal finance as a requirement for high school graduation beginning in the school year ’21-’22,” House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said. “No other credit may be substituted for personal finance. The coursework must include an end-of-course examination, and the state board of education is to develop the standards for the coursework before July 1, 2021.”

Ellington added that high schools “already have embedded information throughout different coursework. They’re just going to have to formulate a curriculum to put it all together.”

Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, called it “a really good bill.” He said he teaches civics, and personal finance is part of the content standards and objectives for civics.

“I think that our students deserve to know how to balance a checkbook.” – Delegate Cody Thompson

“However, we’re seeing with students now that they’re not getting personal finance at the level they really need to get,” Thompson said. “And also, this would allow us to focus more on government and civics in a civics course. By not reducing requirements for social studies or math, we’re saving those courses, and I think that our students deserve to know how to balance a checkbook. Our students deserve to know about APRs [annual percentage rates]. Our students deserve to know about how to do your taxes and file. So this is a very good bill, and I wholly support its passage.”

In its original version, the bill called for a half-credit course, but the House Education Committee amended it to make it a full-credit course.

The eight delegates who voted against House Bill 2775 included a mixture of Republicans and Democrats.

By Jim Wallace

A small bill, Senate Bill 691, which would have an uncertain result, has cleared the Senate Education Committee and is headed for a vote in the full Senate as early as Monday.

Hank Hager, an attorney for the committee, said the bill would provide that additional alternative programs to prepare teachers established or adopted solely by the state board:

  • Are separate from programs established under the certain other alternative certification sections of code;
  • Do not require a partner;
  • Are applicable only to persons who hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education
  • Are subject to certain other statutory provisions only to the extent specifically provided for under state board rules;
  • Can be an alternative to the standard college and university programs for the education of teachers; and
  • May also address the content area preparation of these persons.

The Education Committee approved bill without discussion and sent it to full Senate.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved a bill intended to make school zones safer for children outside of regular school hours. House Bill 2897 previously received approval from the House Technology and Infrastructure Committee.

In its original version, the bill would have required the activation of school zone flashing beacons whenever students are present at school for activities occurring outside of a school’s regular hours of operation. But members of the Technology and Infrastructure Committee learned that there is no uniform way to control those lights in jurisdictions across the state, so it would have been virtually impossible to implement the bill as originally written.

Instead, the Technology and Infrastructure Committee changed the language to provide that a 15-miles-per-hour speed limit would be required whenever school zone flashing beacons are activated, even outside of normal school opening and closing hours, but it would not require them to be on in those situations.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, said he proposed it after a little boy was hit near Beverly Elementary School in his district while going to a Halloween party. The school’s principal requested from the Department of Transportation a key to unlock the box for the control panel for the lights, so that, during after-school events and when the school has delayed starts and early dismissals, the principal can turn on the lights.

“This bill has the potential to save children’s lives and also to mitigate injuries,” Thompson said.

By Jim Wallace

A bill to examine school discipline is on track for a final vote in the Senate as early as Monday after receiving approval this week from the Senate Education Committee.

Senate Bill 723 would require the Department of Education to analyze state-level data compiled annually on school discipline and to develop a statewide plan aimed at addressing the high volume of disciplinary actions taken by county boards. The Department of Education would have to report the findings to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability every two years beginning in 2022.

“The 2022 date is to allow time to implement that plan and then see if it’s working incrementally and do a check-in every two years,” Sarah Stewart, legislative liaison for the Education Department, told the Education Committee. “I’m not sure we could develop and plan and immediately report on the progress and that we would see any progress in the right direction if we don’t give the program time to work.”

The Education Department already is working on a school discipline program, she said.

“A lot of times, the disciplinary action is to expel someone, and certainly there is some research anyway that talks about how, if someone is expelled, what the predictive nature of that is, that they end up not turning out well.” – Sen. Ron Stollings

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, indicated he would like to see fewer students expelled from school. “A lot of times, the disciplinary action is to expel someone, and certainly there is some research anyway that talks about how, if someone is expelled, what the predictive nature of that is, that they end up not turning out well,” he said. “Some people call it the school yard to the prison yard. We can’t just throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

In response, Stewart said, “I don’t think that the plan is going to be to reduce discipline because, for instance, if we reduce expulsions, we might end up with more in-school suspensions because we’re going to be looking at different ways to address behavior. Perhaps some modes of discipline, whether they be parent conferences or in-school suspensions or after-school detentions, they might go up while expulsions are going down.”

Stollings said there has been some talk about trauma-informed care. The emphasis should be on re-integrating students into performing well, he said. Stewart noted that some elementary schools in the Northern Panhandle are partnering with outside groups that support teachers in dealing with situations.

“We’re trying to get our arms around it because it is a big and complex issue,” she said. “We’re trying to make strides in that area.”

“This is something we need to get right,” Stollings said. Everyone wants those children to become productive members of society, he said.

By Jim Wallace

Less than a week after the Senate approved a bill on suicide prevention in schools, the House Education Committee approved its own bill, House Bill 4568, on that subject.

“By December 1, 2020, the state board would have to provide for the routine education of all professional educators, including principals and administrators and service personnel having direct contact with students on the warning signs and resources to prevent suicide,” Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the committee, said. “The state board is to establish guidelines on the routine education that may be accomplished through self-review of suicide prevention materials and resources approved by the state board.”

The bill has gone to the House Finance Committee for further review, but it doesn’t yet have a fiscal note attached to it.

On Wednesday of last week, the Senate voted 33 to zero to pass Senate Bill 230 on the same subject. It would reinstate suicide prevention requirements that were removed inadvertently from state code in 2018 in a bill that eliminated the Department of Education and the Arts.

Senate Bill 230 went to the House Education Committee, which chose to work on its own bill instead.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates voted 97 to one this week to approve House Bill 4546, which would remove from law a requirement for school superintendents to be screened every two years for tuberculosis. The only vote against the bill came from Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh.

Instead of having that required regular testing, the bill would provide that the commissioner of the Bureau of Public Health would be able to require such testing of a superintendent when there is reason to believe the superintendent might have been exposed to tuberculosis.

House Bill 4546 closely mimics House Bill 2669 from 2005 that did the same thing for teachers and other school personnel.

The bill cleared the House Education Committee and the House Health and Human Resources Committee before reaching the House floor.

The bill has gone to the Senate Education Committee.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved House Bill 2794, which would establish the Summer Feeding for All initiative to encourage county school systems to look for innovative ways to provide assistance to students who need access to nutritious foods during summer break and other times when school is not in session.

Each county school board would be required to conduct an assessment of the availability of food to students to determine what food insecurities exist in the student population. Each board also would be required to compile and distribute a list of existing food providers in the community that could provide nutritious food to children with food insecurities on non-school days. In addition, the bill would direct the Education Department’s Office of Child Nutrition to help facilitate county school boards to coordinate and develop the public policy initiative of Feed to Achieve.

Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the House Education Committee, said the bill would not be a directive from the legislature for schools to make sure students are fed when they’re not in school but an authorization for them to use school resources.

“Food availability resources may include any public, private or religious group or charity that will provide food to children with food insecurity,” he said. “County boards may investigate and implement innovative programs, entrepreneurship programs, programs to foster motivation in providing assistance to children with food insecurity in the summer.”

House Bill 2794 has gone to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.

By Jim Wallace

Two legislative committees – the House Education Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee – approved similar bills Wednesday to permit public high schools to establish elective courses on Hebrew Scriptures, the Old Testament of the Bible and the New Testament of the Bible.

“I want to re-emphasize it does not teach theology but rather the history and cultural significance of the Bible as a literary work for thousands of years.” – Delegate Kevan Bartlett

“It is a permissive bill,” the lead sponsor of House Bill 4780, Delegate Kevan Bartlett, R-Kanawha, told his colleagues on the House Education Committee. “It doesn’t require any county to do anything, but it does allow them to do this. And it is an elective course. No student is being required to take the course. It is a high school-level course, nine through 12, and I want to re-emphasize it does not teach theology but rather the history and cultural significance of the Bible as a literary work for thousands of years.”

One county previously offered such an elective course but dropped it when challenged, he said, so this bill would establish it as permissible.

Although the committee voted to approve House Bill 4780, it will be the subject of a public hearing in the House of Delegates chamber at 9:00 Monday morning. That would be before the House could take action on it.

During the same hour the House Education Committee took its action, the Senate Judiciary Committee took up a comparable bill, Senate Bill 38, which already had been approved by the Senate Education Committee. However, unlike the House Education Committee, which spent about 10 minutes on its bill, the Senate Judiciary Committee spent more than an hour hearing testimony from several viewpoints, including Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other backgrounds, and debating the bill.

The committee accepted an amendment from Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, to change the wording to call for the proposed elective to be on either sacred scriptures or comparative religion. Baldwin is a pastor of a church.

Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, argued in favor of the bill, contending that crime in the nation has increased since the early 1960s when public schools quit teaching courses about the Bible. He also suggested that might be a reason for suicide and depression among some students.

“What if these kids who have suicide issues and depression issues learned in an objective manner that they were created by God – that they had a purpose, that God had a purpose for them, that they were loved by him, that life itself has a meaning, that life has a purpose?” – Sen. Mike Azinger

“What if these kids who have suicide issues and depression issues learned in an objective manner that they were created by God – that they had a purpose, that God had a purpose for them, that they were loved by him, that life itself has a meaning, that life has a purpose?” he asked. “These are crucial lessons.”

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said he had come around to supporting the bill because of Baldwin’s amendment. “Our founding fathers were brilliant individuals,” he said. “And the freedom from religion doesn’t mean we have to be religion free, but it means we shouldn’t force our own religion on anyone else.”

 

By Jim Wallace

Almost a month after the Senate narrowly defeated a bill to require the Legislative Auditor’s Office to conduct a performance audit of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, the House Education Committee killed a similar bill this week that would have required an audit to be completed by December 1, 2021.

After discussing House Bill 4659 for more than 25 minutes Monday, the committee voted against sending the bill to the full House of Delegates. Seven members voted for the bill while 15, including the committee chairman, voted against it. The bill is similar to Senate Bill 192, which died in the Senate on January 23, when 16 senators voted for it and 17 voted against it.

“This would be at the very least an aberration if we were to pass a bill authorizing the legislature auditor to audit a non-state agency.” – Delegate John Doyle

Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, was among the House Education Committee members who objected to the bill. “This would be at the very least an aberration if we were to pass a bill authorizing the legislature auditor to audit a non-state agency,” he said.

Questioned about the bill, Bernie Dolan, executive director of the SSAC, said, “I serve under the will and pleasure of 10 board members, so I’m under audit every day.” Five board SSAC board members are principals of member schools and five represent different organizations, including the West Virginia School Board Association. The board meets once a month. The SSAC has been in existence since 1916.

At one point, Education Vice Chairman Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, moved to lay the bill over to another meeting, but that failed on a vote of nine to 10. Later, the committee voted to kill the bill.

A similar bill, Senate Bill 192, made it through the Senate Education Committee after about two hours of debate on it, but it died on the Senate floor January 23 when 16 senators voted for it and 17 voted against it.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee this week approved House Bill 4843, which would specify the state school board’s and local school boards’ responsibilities relating to students with dyslexia or dyscalculia.

Dyslexia is a learning disorder involving difficulty reading because of problems relating speech sounds to letters and words. Dyscalculia is a learning disorder involving difficulty in making arithmetical calculations.

“County boards would be required to train one or more individuals to administer the screenings and to make on-going professional development opportunities available to teachers and other school personnel on identification and intervention for students with these specific learning disabilities,” Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the committee, said. “County boards would also be required to provide students identified with having dyslexia, dyscalculia or other specific learning disabilities, appropriate intervention strategies in accordance with guidelines adopted by the state board through the students’ IEP [individualized education program]. The IEP must be consistent with provisions of the section.”

As it was drafted, the bill’s requirements could have resulted in a large number of screenings in the initial year because it would have applied to students from kindergarten through sixth grade. A fiscal note from the Education Department estimated the cost for screenings in the first year would have been about $630,000 and then $230,000 in following years. Sarah Stewart, legislative liaison for the Education Department, said there should not be a huge cost for connecting students with appropriate services after they are determined to have these conditions.

After it was suggested that kindergarten is too early for the initial screenings, the committee amended the bill to have it apply to students in first grade through fifth grade. That should reduce the bill’s estimated costs, but the Education Department had not issued a revised fiscal note by Wednesday afternoon.

“When you look at students that are underachieving, I think our professional educators would tell us in grade school, if they get into the fifth or sixth grade and these problems still persist, these children are going to be underachievers.” – Delegate Matthew Rohrbach

“When you look at students that are underachieving, I think our professional educators would tell us in grade school, if they get into the fifth or sixth grade and these problems still persist, these children are going to be underachievers,” Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, said in arguing for the bill. “They just are, and yet, these are treatable conditions if they’re screened for and found early. So I just think this is key. If you don’t screen for them, you’re not going to find them. Kids can hide stuff easily.”

Rohrbach, who is one of the bill’s sponsors, added, “We need to get our kids up to speed. To me, this is a wraparound service. It’s part of the wraparound services. We’re going to have to identify problems with these students when they’re treatable and do something about them.”

The bill has gone to the House Finance Committee, which could look further into its costs.

By Jim Wallace

The House could pass a bill by the end of the week to allow noncitizens of the United States to be eligible for teaching certificates or alternative program teacher certificates in West Virginia. The House Education Committee approved Senate Bill 623 early this week after hearing other states, including Maryland, have similar provisions. The Senate approved it on a vote of 32 to two on February 7.

When the bill was before the Senate Education Committee, Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, testified that the bill could help fill teaching shortages, especially in foreign language classes.

The bill was scheduled to receive the second of three required readings on the House floor today, which would set it up for potential passage on Friday.

By Jim Wallace

A bill approved this week by the House Education Committee would allow speech/language pathologists to receive the same pay increase that special education teachers received in last year’s House Bill 206, the major education reform bill from 2019. House Bill 4367 would boost their pay level by three steps in the funding formula.

A fiscal note from the Department of Education indicates the total cost would be $853,489 with $802,932 of that coming from state funds. The cost estimate assumes that 382.63 speech/language pathologists are paid using state aid funding and are eligible to receive the three-step salary increase valued at $1,764 per person based on the state minimum salary tables. Another 24.61 speech/language pathologists are paid from non-state sources, so the estimate is that it would cost the local school boards $50,557 to increase their pay. The estimate includes the increased salary, fringe benefits, and retirement for those employees at $1,764 per person, but it does not include any increased costs due to county salary supplements.

The committee amended the bill to make it effective July 1, 2020, rather than last July 1, which would have required retroactive pay increases.

Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, argued in favor of the bill by saying the school systems in his district have a very difficult time hiring speech/language pathologists.

“Frankly, we are way below market,” he said, adding that the real market is nursing homes and hospitals. “They don’t have to work in the school system,” he said of the speech/language pathologists.

House Bill 4367 has gone to the House Finance Committee.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate voted 32 to zero this week to approve Senate Bill 702 to allow school districts to adopt alternative programs for grades three through six that focus on preventing childhood obesity and secondary diseases associated with it. That would be instead of a program on nutrition now required by the state school board. It also would provide state funding for them. Secondary diseases associated with childhood obesity include: diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, asthma, certain cancers, low-self-esteem, and depression.

Senate Bill 702 would establish the Nutrition and Exercise Education Fund from which money would be awarded on a competitive basis to eligible school districts. The state school board would provide guidelines for administration of the fund, and the Education Department would report to the governor and the legislature on awards made from the fund. The programs would have to be at least eight weeks long with testing beforehand and afterward. School districts would be allowed to contract with qualified service providers to handle the programs.

The bill has gone to the House Education Committee.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee this week approved Senate Concurrent Resolution 10 that could lead to a study on bullying in public schools.

“This is something that we need to take a closer look at in our schools because I can tell you it is still happening.” – Delegate Cody Thompson

“This is something that we need to take a closer look at in our schools because I can tell you it is still happening,” Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, said. “It is still a major problem in our schools to this day.”

The Senate approved the resolution on a voice vote on January 30. It requests a study of the effectiveness of current West Virginia laws relating to anti-bullying measures in public schools. The legislature conducts such studies during interim meetings each year that are held between the annual regular 60-day sessions.

The resolution includes these premises:

  • West Virginia anti-bullying measures and regulations have been previously established to deter harassment, intimidation, and bullying.
  • Schools districts in West Virginia are required to adopt a policy prohibiting harassment, intimidation, and bullying.
  • Harassment, intimidation, and bullying can facilitate a hostile learning environment and negatively impact a child’s educational outcomes.
  • The National Education Association has estimated that more than 160,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade nationally miss school every day because of the threat or fear of bullying.
  • The National Center for Education Statistics, a division of the United States Department of Education, reported in 2019 that 20.2 percent of students between the ages of 12 and 18 experienced bullying in school.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2019 that the negative consequences of bullying can increase the risk of low academic achievement, rates of school dropout, social and emotional distress, self-harm, and even death.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate on Wednesday voted 34 to zero to approve Senate Bill 652, which would affect the School Building Authority’s contract bidding and review procedures. It previously received the approval of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.

“The SBA is attempting to mitigate undue delay and hardship on contracts,” Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, told her colleagues. “It has become more common that construction projects are behind schedule and over budget. Giving the SBA more tools to perform due diligence and hold bidders and contractors accountable will help the SBA achieve its mandate.”

The bill now goes to the House of Delegates.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has passed House Bill 4165, which would establish the West Virginia Remembers Program. The bill would authorize the state school board to promulgate a rule providing for maintaining of lists by county school boards of veterans who would volunteer to speak in public schools about their military experiences.

“The bill creates a voluntary program through which veterans may share their military service experience in an educational setting in the public schools,” House Education Vice Chairman Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, said. “Participation is voluntary for classroom teachers and veterans. Additionally, the state board of education is authorized to promulgate legislative rules regarding soliciting speakers and maintaining lists of speakers.”

Before the House voted on the bill, Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, asked, “What prohibition is there against doing this now?”

“Currently none,” Higginbotham said. “However, there are counties who do not feel comfortable doing this without it being explicitly written in code.”

“Fascinating,” Wilson responded.

The vote to approve the bill was 94 to three with one of the votes against it coming from Wilson. The other votes against it came from Delegate Patrick McGeehan, R-Hancock, and Delegate Joe Jeffries, R-Putnam.

House Bill 4165 has gone to the Senate, which assigned it to its Military Committee and then its Education Committee.

 

 

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.