Legislative News

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Overview

 

Inside

February 5, 2016 - Volume 36 Issue 4

 

“Journalism is literature in a hurry.” – Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), British poet and cultural critic.

 

By Jim Wallace

Wade Linger resigned from the West Virginia Board of Education on Wednesday. He cited what he terms as dissatisfaction with meddling by the legislature for his decision.

In an interview on “Talkline” on the MetroNews Radio Network, Linger said that at least two West Virginia Supreme court rulings found that the legislature’s authority over public education was limited and that many decisions should be left to the state school board and the Department of Education. But he said those rulings have not stopped the legislature from interfering with the state board.

“Every little rule about running the schools has been usurped by the legislature. We stood by basically allowing it, trying to be cooperative and participate with them in the process.” — Wade Linger

“It’s been trampled on for years,” Linger said. “When you look at the book of West Virginia state school laws, which is – what – three inches thick, you can see that over the decades this encroachment has increased and increased. Every little rule about running the schools has been usurped by the legislature. We stood by basically allowing it, trying to be cooperative and participate with them in the process.”

The situation has become worse since Republicans took control of the legislature more than one year ago, Linger said. “Now they want to go as far as tell us what to call our standards, what to teach, what not to teach, what to test, what not to test, how to use tests. Every little element of education has now been politicized.”

Linger’s resignation came one day before the House of Delegates held a public hearing on House Bill 4014, which would require the state to adopt new content standards without any association with Common Core State Standards.

“I’ve had enough because I don't see any indication that the state board is going to stand up and fight this,” he said. “You know, if we allow this to happen, and now that the Republicans are in charge, we allow them to basically come in and throw out our standards and all that because they're trying to make political points on the Common Core issue – if we allow that to happen, then all that means is that when the politics swings back toward the Democrats that they’re perfectly within their prerogatives at that point to yank everything out and push everything back toward left-leaning type of education and back and forth and back and forth.”

The West Virginia Constitution was set up to insulate education from politics, Linger said.

“Basically, you have these legislators that want to do these drive-by legislative changes that throw the whole process into turmoil to make some kind of political points,” he said.

Teachers and students are the victims of that political maneuvering, Linger said, and it makes recruiting teachers harder. Legislators should be finding ways to give teachers pay raises, he said.

In a written statement, House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said that legislators have a duty to represent the concerns of their constituents.

“In December, leaders and members of the Legislature met with Mr. Linger and others to share concerns and specifically requested that the Board delay implementation of the new standards until February to allow the Legislature to have productive input.” — House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha

“With a state education system ranked near or at the bottom of many metrics, we feel it is our duty to work with the Board and Department of Education on changes that could help improve the system and better serve our students’ educational needs,” he said. “In December, leaders and members of the Legislature met with Mr. Linger and others to share concerns and specifically requested that the Board delay implementation of the new standards until February to allow the Legislature to have productive input. Instead of working with the Legislature, the Board proceeded to approve the standards in December, leaving the Legislature no choice but to speak for the citizens who elected us through legislation. While the Board is charged with a vital duty to oversee our school system, it is not the only voice that must be heard.”

After a bill to ban Common Core in West Virginia failed in last year’s legislative session, the state school board and Department of Education embarked on a process that spanned several months to allow thousands of citizens, many of them teachers, to comment on the West Virginia Next Generation Standards and suggest changes. Those standards were based on Common Core. As a result of that process, the state board adopted the West Virginia College- and Career-Ready Standards in December.

State Supt. Michael Martirano has said that the new standards are not based on Common Core. Critics charge that there are still too many similarities between the new standards and Common Core, but Martirano has responded that there are only so many ways to write specific standards.

Linger also provided a letter explaining his decision and views on public education to MetroNews. Here is an excerpt:

The Smarter Balanced tests should be scrapped in favor of End of Course Exams as quickly as they can be developed. The results from the EOC tests should impact students’ grades, teachers’ evaluations, schools’ grades, and each county’s approval status.

Many counties have too few students to justify the cost of a county administration. With our declining population, we should be spending more money on teachers, and less on county administrations. We should restructure the system to have somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 school districts instead of 55. The boundaries should be formed geographically around student populations.

We should be strengthening the capacity of the WVDE and the RESAs to support the needs of the locals; not stripping them. This would increase capacity and efficiency.

We should fund our cyber school programs according to demand, rather than capping them at some arbitrary level. This is the future, and we’d better get out in front before we get run over by cyber programs coming from other states.

We should move the 100 or so students attending the WV Schools for the Deaf & the Blind to new programs based at WVU and Marshall, and close the antiquated facility in Romney within a year. It is a travesty to continue that taxpayer-funded jobs program on the backs of those unfortunate kids.

We should look at our facilities from a statewide perspective rather than by individual school districts. What is happening in Fayette County is a travesty, but it is not the only one by far. Our current system is certainly neither equal nor efficient.

Any education law proposed by a legislator should be placed on automatic hold until that legislator attends twelve consecutive State Board meetings and all associated committee meetings before it is eligible for consideration.

No Governor or legislator should be allowed to criticize our school system as long as our national performance ranking equals or exceeds our national teacher pay ranking.

Promise scholarships should be made in the form of loans. These loans would be forgiven if the student lives and works in West Virginia after graduating from college. If not, the money should be paid back to the West Virginia taxpayers.

Linger has served on the state board since 2008, when former Gov. Joe Manchin appointed him to a nine-year term. He served as president of the board from 2011 to 2013. During his presidency, the board dismissed Jorea Marple as state superintendent in November 2012. She later sued Linger and the board, claiming she had been denied due process, but the state Supreme Court dismissed her suit.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will have the opportunity to select someone to fill the rest of Linger’s term, which will end in 2017. Both Tomblin and Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, issued statements saying they appreciated Linger’s service.

 

By Jim Wallace

The latest legislative attempt to drive any semblance of Common Core State Standards from West Virginia received almost evenly divided testimony Thursday during a public hearing in the House of Delegates chamber.

Among the 15 people who testified at the hearing were eight in favor of House Bill 4014 and seven opposed to it. The bill describes its purpose as being designed to:

  • Prevent the West Virginia Board of Education from implementing Common Core academic standards and assessments;
  • Establish a process and criteria for the state to develop alternate academic standards and assessments;
  • Prohibit the state board from entering into any agreement that requires implementation of Common Core standards or limits the state’s constitutional authority and obligation to provide a thorough and efficient system of education; and
  • Require the state board to report to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education and Accountability.

Last year, the House passed a bill to ban Common Core, but the Senate changed the bill and it died at the end of the session when the two chambers were unable to agree on a compromise version. After that, state Supt. Michael Martirano led an effort that lasted several months, during which thousands of citizens, many of them teachers, had a chance to comment on the West Virginia Next Generation Standards, which were based on Common Core. That led the state board in December to adopt new standards, the West Virginia College- and Career-Readiness Standards, which Martirano has said are not based on Common Core. However, critics have charged they haven’t changed enough from the old Common Core-based standards.

When Martirano spoke at the public hearing, he had strong criticism for those who keep attacking the state’s standards.

“We are not opposed to the feedback,” he said. “We are open to the suggestions to improve but in a very thoughtful manner that must occur so things are not destabilized.”

House Bill 4014 seems to indicate that three different sets of learning standards would be in place over the next three years, Martirano said. “Nothing could be any more disruptive to improving academic achievement,” he said. “Standards are meant to last the test of time. I ask all of you in your chosen professions, if your boss came to you on a yearly basis and said, ‘We now have a different set of standards of which you need to operate from to guide your work, to guide your work on a daily basis, would that be disruptive? That’s what we’re asking our teachers to do.”

West Virginia now has strong standards that are based on research and extensive review, Martirano said. Instead of trying to change standards again, he said, legislators should help to put high-quality teachers in front of all children and fill almost 600 teaching vacancies.

“I strongly oppose H.B. 4014 as written because I view it as a disruptive and a destabilizing bill that would disrupt the educational delivery model. It will prevent our young people from becoming college- and career-ready.” — Supt. Martirano

“I strongly oppose H.B. 4014 as written because I view it as a disruptive and a destabilizing bill that would disrupt the educational delivery model,” Martirano said. “It will prevent our young people from becoming college- and career-ready.”

Mike Green, president of the state school board, also spoke against the bill “This bill, if passed, undermines our duties and responsibilities and will lead to significant and costly disruption and chaos in our state’s educational system,” he said. “Decisions as to standards – that is what we expect our students to know at the end of any particular grade – must be made by professional educators, not politicians.”

Teachers, not politicians, should make decisions on what is taught in the schools, Green said. The state now has outstanding standards developed by West Virginians, he said.

“It saddens me every single day that these standards continue to get attacked primarily by people who have never even looked at a single standard or even made an intelligent or appropriate remark or comment about any of them,” Green said. “But they continue to broad-brush this and say these standards have to go. That makes no sense.”

Calling it an affront to the teachers who were involved in developing the standards, he said the bill must be defeated. He also noted that a word search on the bill shows that the word “children” shows up just twice. “That’s telling,” he said.

Gypsy Denzine, dean of the West Virginia University College of Education and Human Services and professor of learning sciences and development, said she served as the principal investigator when the standards were revised last year. She said they were revised to provide more local control of curriculum and she strongly supports the results.

Delegates promote the bill.

Among those who spoke in favor of the bill and against Common Core were two delegates who are sponsors of the bill. Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, read a letter from a parent who doesn’t believe that the latest set of standards adopted by the state school board has really moved away from the former standards based on Common Core. “Parents of West Virginia are not ignorant, and we have quickly recognized what the state board of education is doing,” Butler said as he read the letter. “All they have done is add back in a few things like cursive and multiplication tables and changed the name.”

Delegate Michael Moffatt, R-Putnam, also read a letter from a parent who also is a teacher. That person complained that there are too many math standards at the high school level.

Moffatt, who said he attended three town halls meetings that the Department of Education held last year during a several-month process to revise the state’s standards, charged that the federal government forced West Virginia and other states to adopt Common Core-based standards and testing.

“Have standards that make sense for West Virginians. People in the Eastern Panhandle learn different than people in the southern part of the state.” — Delegate Michael Moffatt

“Have standards that make sense for West Virginians,” he said. “People in the Eastern Panhandle learn different than people in the southern part of the state, but having them all take the same, one-size-fits-all test does not make sense to me and to many of the teachers that teach it.”

Many people have said legislators should fix problems with the Public Employees Insurance Agency that could hurt teachers financially instead of trying to change the state’s content standards again. But Moffatt had another view on that.

“PEIA is an issue that’s been coming for years that’s been coming for years,” he said. “It’s been on a five-year track, and the failure of the PEIA board to address that and to stand up to the governor and ask for more money is a problem that the legislature will take care of in this legislative budget.”

Angela Summers of West Virginians Against Common Core, said, “The state board’s repeal [of the old standards] a few weeks ago was a charade. That same ruse was used in Indiana, New Jersey and other states – just Common Core by another name. Our state board members have called us right-wingers with a political agenda, but we and the moms and dads across this country do not give a tinker’s damn about the letter following your name.” (That’s a reference to legislators’ party affiliations.

Teachers’ leaders oppose the bill.

The leaders of both of West Virginia’s teachers’ unions denounced the bill. Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said “Let’s stop this debate and work on what really matters: quality educators to help our children become intelligent, compassionate and productive citizens in our communities. With no pay raise proposed, no fix for PEIA and another push for charter schools and repealing standards, we’re spending all our time on things that won’t help our kids. Let’s focus on the real issues here, and let’s get to work.”

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said, “We’re wasting our valuable time talking about this or that or the small things instead of addressing the real issues.” He said teachers are disrespected, paid too little and facing PEIA problems. He said West Virginia already had standards that matched 85 percent of the Common Core standards before the state adopted Common Core.

“If you want to do away with the Common Core Standards, tell me what we’re going to teach because there are only so many standards that are out there, only so many things that you can do. And if you do away with them and this bill passes that says you cannot do anything related to Common Core Standards, that leaves us with about 20 percent of the things that we can actually teach.” — Dale Lee

“If you want to do away with the Common Core Standards, tell me what we’re going to teach because there are only so many standards that are out there, only so many things that you can do,” Lee said. “And if you do away with them and this bill passes that says you cannot do anything related to Common Core Standards, that leaves us with about 20 percent of the things that we can actually teach. Is that really what you want to do? Think about what’s best for kids.”

A spokesman for the higher education system also spoke against the bill. Corley Dennison, vice chancellor for academic affairs for the Higher Education Policy Commission and the Council for Community and Technical College Education, said more time is needed to determine the effectiveness of the current standards. He added that replacing the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which West Virginia now uses, with ACT or West Virginia-developed tests would cost much more. North Carolina spent three years and $7million to create its end-of-course assessments, he said.

Speakers in favor of the bill included the parents of three children in Harrison County. Jeff Kimble charged that the federal government used extortion to get Common Core adopted in West Virginia and other states. “I believe Common Core must be rejected in order to avoid further control by the federal government over what is quintessentially a local matter, the education of our children,” he said. “Federal influence over education is arguably worse than other instances of federal overreach because the question of who will control our children’s education is a matter of profound importance from the most personal perspective possible.”

Laura Kimble said that parents should have right to opt their children out of the annual summative assessments. Many parents don’t like the tests, she said. “They learned that their children were going to take an unvalidated, unreliable, unmeasured and adaptive online test,” she said. “They learned that their children were essentially participating in a mass experiment that they had not agreed to. In a cyber world of security breaches, identity theft and data stalking, they learned that their children’s information is vulnerable and accessible to many. They also learned that researchers and the federal government are salivating for their children’s data.”

At the end of the hearing, House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said his committee would accept written comments would accept written comments about the bill through today.

 

The Senate Education Committee has approved legislation to give county school districts more control over the Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) that serve them. But committee members were unable this week to decide a bill that would allow home-schooled and private school students to participate in public school sports.

When Senate Bill 373 started out, its stated purpose was to grant full control of the boards of Education Regional Education Service Agencies to the state superintendent. That would include the selection of executive directors and support staff as well as the organization and operations of the RESAs. But the bill has been rewritten to provide school districts more control over the RESAs they are in. However, not all committee members believe the bill is needed.

Some concern was expressed about how well the RESAs are overseen, especially considering that two RESAs were victims of embezzlement several years ago — a point made by Sen. Rob Plymale, D-Wayne. But Nick Zervos, executive director of RESA 6, said RESAs are audited annually and are monitored by both the state school board and their regional councils. He also said the state school board has encouraged collaboration among the RESAs and given them a great amount of authority to do what they need to do. The regional councils select their executive directors now, although the state board has the final say, he said. “I would say close to 100 percent of the time the person recommended by the council is approved by the state board,” he said.

Among the services provided by the RESAs to their school districts are training programs for educators. Sen. Plymale said training should be at the regional level rather than at the state level.

Zervos added, “You’d have a lot more school systems in the red if they didn’t have the shared services that we provide.”

Despite the assurances Zervos offered about local control of RESAs, the committee approved an amendment offered by Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, to ensure that executive directors of RESAs are chosen by the representatives from the counties served and that any members of the regional councils appointed by the state superintendent would be non-voting. “While we welcome, I think, any expert opinions and analysis that could be contributed, we want to leave the actual control of the board of directors in the hands of the counties,” Karnes said.

In the end, Plymale, who served several terms as chairman of the Senate Education Committee, opposed the bill. For 14 to 15 years, the legislature has made incremental steps to allow more local authority, and fiscal problems have been rectified, he said. “I don’t think this …is a necessary step to make sure that we have the local autonomy from the RESAs’ standpoint,” he said.

But Karnes spoke in favor of the bill. “There’s no insurance policy that says that there’s no corruption at the state level,” he said. “There’s strong oversight already whether we do this or not, so I don’t think this is a question of local control not being sufficient. I support this because I believe that local control is the path to bring our education system back to a functioning education system.”

The committee approved Senate Bill 373 on a vote of eight to six.

‘Tim Tebow Act’ discussed; allows home-schooled students to participate in public school athletics

Senators are concerned about letting home-schoolers play sports at public schools.

Another bill was the subject of much discussion by the committee, but action was postponed at least until next week. Senate Bill 105 would provide that students being taught at home or by private tutor, or enrolled in a private, parochial or church school or a school operated by a religious order may participate in extracurricular activities, including sports teams, of public schools.

The bill has been named the Tim Tebow Act in honor of a former quarterback for the University of Florida who won the Heisman Trophy in 2007 and led his team to national championships in 2006 and 2008. He was home-schooled as a child. In college and during his brief professional football career, Tebow was noted for public displays of his Christian beliefs.

The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission opposes the bill. Bernie Dolan, executive director of the WVSSAC, said part of the problem would be determining the academic eligibility of home-schooled students. Students attending schools under the WVSSAC’s authority must maintain grade-point averages of at least 2.0 to maintain eligibility to be on sports teams.

“Home-school students turn in their portfolios to be evaluated once a year,” Dolan said. “Our students are required to have the 2.0 twice a year at each semester.”

The bill also refers equal discipline. “I have a hard time understanding equal discipline,” Dolan said. “If you’re on a bus and you’re coming home from a basketball game and two kids do something inappropriate, the student that is enrolled in the school could face suspension or expulsion where the home-school student would not face suspension.”

Karnes challenged Dolan on his position. He asked if Dolan thought home-schoolers could not achieve 2.0 grade-point averages.

“I’m not saying the work is not adequate, but if a home-schooler brings grades to school, they’re not transcripted,” Dolan said. “Therefore, it would be hard to quantify that 2.0 out of their work.”

“You don’t think home-school parents give their kids grades?” Karnes asked.

“We have never transcribed them into the school,” Dolan said.

Karnes, noting that he is a home-schooling father with two kids in college, said his children were accepted into college based on transcripts.

Dolan said that Ohio County schools tried to get transcripts for home-schooled students. “They came in with no grades,” he said.

Karnes said that’s a state school board policy that they’re not allowed to bring in grades from home-schooling.

“That’s probably true,” Dolan said.

“So this is really a question of a bad policy, not necessarily that it was impossible to do,” Karnes said.

“I think it would be hard to compare,” Dolan replied.

Karnes then said that home-school parents pay the same taxes as others, so they pay twice for education.

But Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the Department of Education, later said, “There is no money coming in for these additional students. Schools are funded through the State Aid Formula only for students who are enrolled during the academic day. So if you do have home-school students coming in participating in sports programs, the public school system is not receiving any additional dollars for those students.”

Sen. Plymale said he is not opposed to allowing home-schooled students to participate in public schools’ sports programs. “I do think that they have to meet the same criteria that others do,” he said and asked for a list of criteria the home-schooled students would have to meet. Dolan said having transcripts would be at the top of the list and handling discipline issues would be second. He added that 19 states allow no access, 22 allow full access, and the others allow partial access.

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, expressed concern that home-schooled students might not have the immunizations that public school students are required to have. He is a physician.

Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, wondered if the bill would open the door to the recruitment of high school athletes that the legislature closed in the past. Dolan said that could be a problem. He said the reason the WVSSAC’s book of rules has so many pages is that many of them are directed at recruitment. “Parents pick up their whole families and move just so they could be eligible to play athletics,” he said.

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, likewise was concerned about recruitment because the bill would allow students from private schools to play sports at public schools.

Dolan responded, “It’s going to encourage recruitment in especially the more urban areas.”

Romano said allowing home-schooled or private school students to play at public schools could create financial burden for public high schools. “They’re not paying for helmets and shoulder pads and trainers and all the other stuff,” he said.

The committee plans to consider the bill again next week.

 

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee approved five bills this week, including legislation to protect student data and to increase penalties for school employees in sexual abuse cases.

One bill the committee approved is House Bill 4261, which would prohibit the sale or transfer of student data to vendors and other profit-making entities. The committee approved an amendment proposed by Delegate Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, that says: “In the event that the ACT or SAT are adopted for use as the state summative assessment, nothing in this article prevents the ACT or the College Board from using a student’s assessment results and necessary confidential information for their customary uses for post-secondary admissions, placement and financial aid.”

Duke said that a committee appointed by Supt. Michael Martirano that has been looking at what performance measure should be used for state testing has moved toward using ACT or SAT. He said other people in the legislature and in the county school systems have recommended that. The amendment would be proactive in case that would happen, he said.

Asked for a reaction to it, Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the Department of Education, said, “We have reviewed it extensively. We have discussed it with your counsel, and we believe it will not hamper any of our current activities.”

Delegate George Ambler, R-Greenbrier, said, “I think we’re starting to take active steps to actually change the education system to where students in the state of West Virginia have accountability on the tests they are taking by taking these ACT and SAT.”

House Bill 4261 now goes to the House Judiciary Committee.

Another bill the Education Committee approved is House Bill 4291, which would increase penalties for teachers who sexually abuse children with whom they hold positions of trust. Such teachers would be banned from being employed in any capacity in any educational, training, vocational, day care, group home, foster care program or rehabilitation facility in the state.

The committee amended the bill to change “teacher” to “school employee.” Delegate Frank Blackwell, D-Wyoming, objected to that change. He apparently was the lone nay vote when the committee approved House Bill 4291 and sent it to the House Judiciary Committee.

Boards would bear some Mountaineer Challenge Academy costs.

A third piece of legislation, House Bill 4325, would require the state school board to promulgate a rule that would require county school boards to pay tuition to the Mountaineer Challenge Academy for each student from their districts who goes through the academy and earns a high school diploma.

Major Gen. Jim Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard, which runs the academy, explained that it is part of a plan to increase the number of students who go through the academy. The academy, which gives military-style training to troubled students, runs on a calendar year with two sessions rather than a school year, he said. The first session runs from January to June. The second runs from July to December.

Hoyer said the National Guard is funded for 125 graduates per class, but now it is up to 145 per class. The federal government reimburses the Guard for 75 percent of the costs of 125 students per class but not the others, he said, and the objective is to get up to 200 graduates per class. On average, 85 percent of the students who go through the academy achieve high school diplomas, he said, and that has helped increase the state’s graduation rate over the past two years.

“We believe that this is something specifically important for the state,” Hoyer said. Some people in the Department of Defense contend the National Guard should not be involved in the program, he said, but he disagrees with that.

“This is a national security issue,” Hoyer said. “In an all-volunteer army, if we can’t go out and pull kids in who have high school diplomas, we’re not going to have enough folks to serve in the military. Right now nationally in the eligible age range – 17 and a half to 37 and a half – less than 30 percent of that population can meet the requirements to join the United States military. One of the key components of that is a lack of a high school diploma.”

The National Guard is working with the Department of Defense to increase its reimbursement from 125 students per class to 150 students and then incrementally up to 200, he said.

“In order to move the program forward quickly, this is an effort to move that money around without significantly harming school boards,” Hoyer said in reference to House Bill 4325. “As we know, everyone’s in budget issues, and the governor was attempting to be sensitive to that circumstance.”

The Education Committee approved the bill and sent it to the House Finance Committee.

A fourth bill the committee approved is House Bill 4301, which would “initiate a comprehensive transformation in school leadership through a process that includes broad stakeholder input” under the state school board to assist it in developing recommendations to the legislature and the governor. Before approving the bill, the committee amended it to explain where money could be found in the Education Department’s budget for that process.

The final bill to get through the House Education Committee is House Bill 4316, which would make a technical improvement in the language for reimbursement of teachers for fees upon enrollment, completion or renewal of National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certification. Currently completion is defined as submitting “ten scorable entries,” but the NBPTS has changed its definition several times over the years and the current statutory definition is no longer valid. The new language requires the submission of satisfactory evidence to the West Virginia Department of Education, rather than relying on a specific parameter of the NBPTS that might change.

House Bill 4316 now goes to the House Finance Committee.

 

A subcommittee of the House Education Committee working on school calendar legislation has decided to narrow its considerations down to just one bill, House Bill 4171.

According to the bill’s stated purpose, it would “provide that school instructional terms for students begin no earlier than the day after Labor Day and end no later than the second Friday in June.” It also would provide that, in the event instructional days need to be cancelled, county school boards could provide for 10 “technology days” during which assigned classwork sent home with student may be completed. For students without the necessary access to computers at home, the bill would provide for homework packets to be sent home with them.

The subcommittee decided to discard four other bills dealing with the school calendar. Those bills and their stated purposes are:

  • House Bill 4167, which would have permitted county boards of education to accumulate instructional days and use them when needed in a later instructional term when inclement weather and emergencies prevent the otherwise full instructional term from being completed.
  • House Bill 4296, which would have permitted county boards of education to accumulate instructional days and use them when needed in a later instructional term when inclement weather and emergencies prevent the otherwise full instructional term from being completed. It would have established an instructional day to be 330 minutes long.
  • House Bill 4028, which would have provided that school instructional terms for students could begin no earlier than September 1 and must terminate on or before June 5. The bill would have decreased the number of instructional days for students by five days and required five days for professional development or continuing education. It would have permitted school boards to contract with school personnel for employment terms in excess of 200 days per year.
  • House Bill 2572, which would have allowed school boards in low-density counties to operate their schools on a four day school week basis.

It was noted that House Bill 2572 was originally prepared when fuel costs were high, so saving one day a week of bus transportation would have been more significant. Subcommittee members decided that concept is unneeded and impractical now.

Monongalia County Supt. Frank Devono told the subcommittee that there are alternatives to the current requirement 180 days per school year. One way is to have longer days and accrue time that could be used to make up for days when schools are closed, he said. More time on task is good for students, he added.

“So I think there are opportunities for us to be able to have a longer day and be able to count that longer day as we need,” Devono said.

Right now, Monongalia County has 15 extra minutes per day, he said. By squeezing in 30 minutes, the district could go just 175 days or fewer instead of 180 days, he said.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, cautioned his colleagues. “We want to be careful about this 180 days, and I’m really concerned that I want to leave some leeway in the amount of snow days that we would need,” he said. But he wanted to be cautious about using accrued minutes to make up for lost days.

Asked about state Supt. Michael Martirano’s position on the matter, Sarah Stewart of the Department of Education, said, “The superintendent strongly believes that students need to be in for 180 days. During those 180 days, quality instruction has to occur.” She said 27 states and the District of Columbia require school years of 180 days, and Kansas requires 185 days.

However, Stewart noted that the state school board has a Reimaging Time initiative as a result of a bill passed last year. She said two counties are demonstrating how they can send work home with students to do on snow days. Districts must apply for permission to do that ahead of time to be able to do that, she said.

“They don’t necessarily need accrued time to use these days because they’re showing, despite the fact that students aren’t in that school, quality instruction is still occurring,” Stewart said. Districts can use up to five days that way, she said, but the bill the subcommittee is considering would allow 10 days to be used that way.

At the end of the meeting, Delegate George Ambler, R-Greenbrier, said, “We are not talking about changing the calendar from 180 days.” He added, “It’s how we accumulate the 180 days that’s at the heart of this question.”

The subcommittee is scheduled to meet next on Monday morning.

 

By Jim Wallace

A subcommittee of the House Education Committee is working on legislation to change the School Aid Formula. Members spent about an hour and a half this week discussing ideas but have more work to do.

The subcommittee’s chairman, Delegate Walter Duke, R-Berkeley, noted that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin proposed legislation last year that would have changed the bus replacement schedule from 12 year to 15 years, swept money from the Growth Facilities Act, and swept money from counties with revenue from payments in lieu of taxes. But he said the legislature stripped the latter two provisions out of the bill and softened the change to the bus replacement schedule. He said the governor again this year is trying to change the bus replacement schedule and sweep money from the fund for facilities in growth counties, but he is not going after revenue from payments in lieu of taxes.

Joe Panetta, chief operations officer for the Department of Education, said the governor’s bill would cut funding to districts by $14 million. He said it would do that by carrying forward the mid-year, 1 percent reduction from this fiscal year.

Dave Mohr, counsel to the House Education Committee, said work is under way on a flexible formula bill that would make several changes in the School Aid Formula. For example, it would fund districts for positions right up to the formula level even if not all positions are filled.

“It gives counties a little more flexibility, particularly small counties if they want to share a speech pathologist with another county and fund half the salary,” Mohr said. “They don’t lose the funding for the position.”

Another provision would allow districts to put more local share money into technology, he said.

Subcommittee members noted that many districts are “getting hammered” on property taxes with the decline of the coal industry. In some counties, bankrupt coal companies are not paying the property taxes they owe.

The subcommittee is expected to continue its work next week.

 

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has approved a bill that would ease requirements for West Virginians who home-school their children.

House Bill 4175 would:

  • Change the notice of intent for home-schooling from annually to one time per student.
  • Eliminate the requirement for students enrolled in public schools to provide notice at least two weeks prior to withdrawal. The notice would have to include assurance that a child will receive instruction in core subjects and be assessed annually.
  • Delete the requirement to annually specify a child’s grade level and submit a plan of instruction for the ensuing year.
  • Delete a requirement for the persons providing home-schooling to submit satisfactory evidence of having a high school diploma or the equivalent.
  • Change the requirement to submit a child’s assessment results annually to submitting them in grades three, five, eight and 11 by June 30 in the year of each assessment.
  • Establish a new provision to require parents or guardians to retain copies of students’ academic assessments for three years.
  • Require tests to be administered in accordance with the published conditions and guidelines for the tests.
  • Remove the prohibition on allowing a student’s parent or guardian to administer tests.
  • Change the measure of a child’s performance on the tests to stanine groups rather than percentile scores and require them to be in or above the fourth stanine instead of at or above the 50th percentile.

Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette, asked, “What accountability measures are in this bill to ensure that students are receiving a proper education?” House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said the tests would have to be administered in accordance with the published conditions of test providers. Also, he said, there are several safeguards in regard to superintendents’ authority under current law. Superintendents may institute court action if it is perceived that a child is experiencing education neglect, he said.

Delegate Michael Ferro, D-Marshall, expressed concern about removing the requirement for the person giving home-school instruction to have a high school diploma or the equivalent. But Espinosa said that the legislature last year provided for the creation of a home-school diploma. Without changing the requirement for home-schooling parents, current law would preclude those who were home-schooled themselves before that home-school diploma was established or were home-schooled in another state from home-schooling their children, he said.

“What are the requirements for a public school teacher in West Virginia to teach now in terms of education?” Ferro asked. A bachelor’s degree and certification, Espinosa replied. Ferro then asked whether public school teachers are required to have continuing education. Espinosa said there is a requirement for six hours of continuing education to make their teaching certificates permanent.

“Would you agree that perhaps the quality of education or what is being taught to these home-school kids could potentially be less?” Ferro asked.

Espinosa responded that a study by the National Home Education Research Institute found that students with parents with the lowest level of formal education still posted test scores 20 percent higher than the national average. Also, he said, the level of formal education among West Virginia home-school parents was much higher than that of the general population of the state. But Ferro wasn’t satisfied with those answers.

“I had intended to support this bill, but in light of the requirements, and actually with the alternative certification being passed last year, I fear that removing the requirements for a high school diploma or GED is not in the best interest of kids,” he said. “I have nothing against home-schooled kids at all and nothing against their parents or whoever teaches them. But I look at this as perhaps kind of again a little bit of a slap in the face to those of us who have gone through the educational process, those of us who have had to go through getting our bachelor’s degree, taking continuing education, renewing our certificates, going to graduate school, spending our money to do that. That’s what we have to do to maintain certification.”

Ferro added that he feared future legislation could do more harm. “This could be a precursor to perhaps what could go on with public education that we could perhaps even reduce the requirements for public school teachers in order to teach,” he said. Ferro concluded that he would vote against the bill.

Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, then asked, “Does this bill reconfirm the concept that it is the parents’ sovereign right to educate their children?”

Espinosa replied, “I think that really is the thrust of this legislation. Do we, in fact, believe that a parent can best decide and is best equipped in order to educate their children if they do, in fact, decide to home-school them?” He added that the bill incorporates some of the best practices from around the country.

Delegate Josh Nelson, R-Boone, said he was sympathetic to what teachers go through because his mother has a master’s degree in education and serves as a special education coordinator in Boone County. But he said he has considered home-schooling his two sons and considers them to belong to him, and not the state, until they are adults.

The House approved House Bill 4175 on a vote of 80 in favor and 18 against with two members absent.