Legislative News

Overview

Inside

 
 

The Thrasher Group

February 23, 2018 - Volume 38 Issue 7

By Jim Wallace

If West Virginia public school teachers taught anything Thursday and today, it was a real world lesson in civics and government. Teachers and school service personnel made good on their threats to strike over frustration about what they consider to be inadequate pay and health care benefits, even though legislators and Gov. Jim Justice made some moves to give them pay raises and put a freeze on health care costs. But they also took steps that infuriated educators further.

Also this week, the Public Employees Insurance Agency’s Finance Board met to put a hold on changes scheduled to take effect in July, the state school board held an emergency meeting to gather information on the situation and figure out how to react to a strike, and state Supt. Steve Paine, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and Justice issued statements.

Public education matters weren’t the only issues at the Capitol in the past week, but they received the most attention. That included last Friday, when teachers from several counties walked off their jobs and rallied in the hallways of the Capitol, sometimes chanting, “We will strike.” On Saturday, thousands of teachers from around the state rallied at the Capitol, when it was announced they and service personnel would strike the last two days of this workweek.

When Thursday morning arrived, many teachers and service workers stood outside their schools holding signs with such slogans as “Honk if you are 4 teachers.” Thousands of others crowded into the Capitol and filled the hallways. They chanted and cheered loud enough to be heard inside the House and Senate chambers even with the big, wooden doors closed tight. They sang familiar songs, such as “We Shall Overcome,” “Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Goodbye,” and “We’re Not Going to Take It Anymore.” They altered other songs to fit the occasion, singing, “We won’t back down,” and “We will, we will vote you out, vote you out.” Those who could fit in filled the galleries of the House and Senate to watch the proceedings.

The strike occurred even though several high government officials urged them not to do it.

“I support our teachers, but they’re walking out on my children and on my family.” – Delegate Daryl Cowles

“I support our teachers, but they’re walking out on my children and on my family,” House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, said on the floor of the House of Delegates on Monday. “Why would they walk away from the students? The students haven’t done anything wrong. We’re making progress. Why walk out in the middle of a contract? Why walk out when we’re making this good progress? And my bigger question perhaps is: What happens after Thursday or Friday? What happens then? I pray cooler heads prevail. Sadly, it seems to me the union bosses are not giving good counsel to their members back home. We have made progress. We have done some good things. I’m not sure we can get all of that across the finish line. I would need the support of teachers and state workers. But wait, there’s more. I hope it doesn’t become, but wait, there’s less. Cooler heads – that’s what I’m looking for, and I hope the information gets out to the counties, to the members, good teachers and state workers across the state.”

Among those who responded to Cowles was Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo. “A lot of things that have been spoken in this chamber are disingenuous,” he said. “I don’t want to say they’re false, but they are awful misleading. With all due respect, Mr. Majority Leader, there is more. There’s a lot more this body can do. There’s a lot more this body can do to help our teachers. There’s a lot more we can do to help our school service personnel. There’s a lot more we can do to help our state troopers and our state employees.”

Like Cowles, several Republicans, including Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, blamed the strike on “union bosses,” although union presidents said they were only following the guidance of their members.

- “They blamed the union bosses. Let me tell you about the union bosses: I had to ask my wife this morning if I had enough money in the bank to buy gas to come to work. Our state president works for Cabell County schools and doesn’t get a dollar more than the secretaries.” – Joe White

“We can’t stop this,” Joe White, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, said in an appearance before the state school board on Wednesday. “I will say this: They blamed the union bosses. Let me tell you about the union bosses: I had to ask my wife this morning if I had enough money in the bank to buy gas to come to work. Our state president works for Cabell County schools and doesn’t get a dollar more than the secretaries. I’m asking you for the people. Stand with your people and listen to your people.”

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, told the House Education Committee on Wednesday the call for a strike was up to a super majority of members in each county. Members of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia also participated in the strike.

Standing apart from the WVEA, AFT-WV and WVSSPA, was the smaller group, West Virginia Professional Educators. David Gladkosky, associate director, told the state school board that his organization does not endorse any kind of strike or work stoppage.

“We have over 1,200 members who don’t want to strike and feel it is a disservice to our students, and it creates ill will among our faculties, and it’s not an effective negotiating tool,” he said. ”Besides the interruption of education, it’s sometimes the only two meals that our students get throughout the day, so we’re concerned about our students.”

WVEA leader tells legislators what teachers want.

“It’s about making our pay competitive so we’re not losing teachers across the border when you can make anywhere from $5,000 to $21,000 more in any of the contiguous states.” – Dale Lee

During the House Education Committee meeting Wednesday, Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, asked Lee to explain the issues driving teachers and service personnel to strike. Lee said there were four major issues, of which pay is just one. “It’s about making our pay competitive so we’re not losing teachers across the border when you can make anywhere from $5,000 to $21,000 more in any of the contiguous states,” he said. “We’re losing more and more teachers.”

The second issue is health insurance through PEIA, Lee said. PEIA had planned to change premiums and benefits in several ways beginning July 1. That included basing premiums for dual-income families on both spouses’ salaries and imposing a wellness program called Go365. At the urging of Gov. Justice and others, the PEIA Finance Board this week agreed to freeze its premiums and benefits for the next fiscal year and make G0365 voluntary, and legislators came up with a few different ways to shore up PEIA funds. But Lee said the teachers and service workers want to be included in a proposed task force to come up with a long-range funding plan for PEIA, which requires at least $50 million in additional money each year to keep up with inflation in health care costs.

“I would prefer that everyone who has skin in the game go back to the table, and let’s try to come up with some long-term solutions to this PEIA problem,” he said.

“The third issue is really what educators consider attacks on seniority and on taking funding away from public schools in the guise of charter schools, education savings accounts, vouchers, any of those things,” Lee said. “Now, I recognize that those bills are parked, so to speak, in House Education, but those are bills that concern educators across the state.”

The fourth major issue leading to the strike, he said, is about bills with goals that seemed to be “to silence the voice of educators” – in other words, directed against the unions themselves. That includes one bill that would require union members to re-authorize each year the deduction of union dues from their paychecks rather than letting that authorization renew automatically.

“It’s ironic that that bill ran in Senate Judiciary on the first day that we had over 1,200 teachers here from southern West Virginia,” Lee said. “It’s ironic that they made it clear that that was just a punitive bill to help silence their voice. When you add on that Senate Bill 494, which attacks only the two presidents of the associations and their retirement, it angers teachers and service professional across the state.”

Senate Bill 494 would prohibit the presidents of the WVEA and AFT-WV from getting retirement credit for the years they are away from the classroom leading their unions. Although an amendment was added to the bill preventing the prohibition from applying to the two current leaders – Lee and Christine Campbell, president of AFT-WV – Lee said it still would hurt their successors.

“That retirement is at no cost – absolutely zero cost – to the state or to the county,” he said. “The associations pay the retirement portion. And unlike what has been said on the Senate floor, we don’t get credit for total salary. We get it for the salary that we would be making as the classroom teacher that year. So right now, I would have 32 years of experience and whatever my pay level would be if I were in the classroom, that’s my retirement credit at that point. Those are the things that have really angered people. We thought we were making some progress on several. It doesn’t appear that we do, to be honest with you, when speeches are made on both floors using terms like ‘union boss,’ it only adds fuel to the fire.”

When Folk pressed him on what size pay raise would be acceptable to teachers, Lee expressed dissatisfaction over the governor’s original proposal for 1 percent annual raises over five years, which the Senate passed in the form of Senate Bill 267. He said, “We have heard over and over you all say, ‘But we will give you more. As revenues increase, we will give you more. More is coming. Trust us.’ Then why don’t we frontload the 5 percent, and then go back each year and look at the revenues and make the adjustments from there?”

The House did frontload the raises a bit by amending Senate Bill 267 to provide a 2 percent raise the first year and 1 percent in each of the next three years. When the Senate returned to working on the bill this week, it kept the 2 percent raise in the first year but provided for only two more years of 1 percent raises each. The House then accepted that version, which also included 2 percent raises in the first year for school service personnel and State Police troopers followed by just one year of a 1 percent raise. Calling it “the responsible thing to help our teachers and state employees,” Justice quickly signed the bill into law.

“We certainly recognize our teachers are underpaid and this is a step in the right direction to addressing the pay issue.” – Gov. Jim Justice

“We certainly recognize our teachers are underpaid and this is a step in the right direction to addressing the pay issue,” Justice said in a news release, which also noted the action taken by the PEIA Finance Board. “Now we need to turn our focus back to continuing public education reforms and making our state educational system the best in the country.”

But getting 4 percent in raises over three years instead of 5 percent over either four or five years left many teachers believing the legislature and governor had taken a step backward. The bill did nothing to persuade them to call off their strike.

In the House Education Committee meeting, Folk asked, “What is the first-year raise you want?” Lee responded, “I think we should frontload the 5 percent over five years that we’re proposing, and I don’t think 5 percent for the first year is unreasonable.”

“Where would you get the money?” Folk asked.

“Well, let’s see,” Lee said. “There are all kinds of ways you could get the money. There are ways in the budget you could get the money, and then there are revenue measures you could get. Where there is a will, there is a way.”

Although he said it’s not his job to say, Lee said, “You could look at increasing the severance tax. You could look at a sugary drink tax. You could look at all kinds of different ways that you could fund that.”

“Do you agree that health care costs are what drives PEIA costs?” Folk asked.

“Yes, sir,” Lee replied. “That’s why you need to find some type of revenue source and be able to start to offset those costs.”

Folk said he has repeatedly supported legislation to increase competition in the health care market, such as bills to eliminated certificates of need for certain health care facilities. Lee said he didn’t believe his union had supported any legislation like that.

“This whole thing, in essence, is more revenue.” – Delegate Michael Folk

“This whole thing, in essence, is more revenue,” Folk then said about the union’s position.

“We would be willing to go to the table in a task force, roll up our sleeves, look at all options, including finding a funding source or looking at ways to reduce costs,” Lee responded. “That’s why we’re saying you have to have a seat in these discussions at the beginning so we can look at all options and then make educated decisions based on that and then come up with a plan that would be the best for all participants involved.”

Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, said, “I’ve been floating this idea that we ought to tie teacher pay to the GDP of the state.”

To that, Lee said, “I’m willing to explore any avenue that will increase teacher pay and look at all measures, but it’s difficult to do that when you don’t have a seat at the table.” He added that the medical rate of inflation is 5 percent to 6 percent, so PEIA would need an additional $50 million to $60 million a year.

Legislators look for more money for PEIA.

After Justice signed Senate Bill 267, legislators did nothing more on raising teachers’ pay, but they did work on a few different options to provide more funding for PEIA. One was House Bill 4620, which the House passed quickly late last week. It would take $29 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund and send it to PEIA to cover the costs of freezing benefits and premiums throughout the next fiscal year, a cost estimated to be at least $23 million. The House passed that bill on a 95-to-one vote last Friday with only Delegate Saira Blair, R-Berkeley, voting against it. But House Bill 4620 has received a cool reception from the Senate, where it has not moved out of the Finance Committee since Monday.

Meanwhile, the House spent considerable time this week on another bill to shore up PEIA. House Bill 4625would put 20 percent of any state budget surplus at the end of the fiscal year into the PEIA Stability Fund through fiscal year 2027. The legislature created the fund in 2016 with the intention of putting $15 million each year into PEIA with $10 million going for active public employees and $5 million going for retirees. House Bill 4625 would increase the amount going into the Stability Fund in most years. The bill provides that, if the balance of that fund ever would reach $75 million, the allocation from the general revenue fund would be suspended until the balance drops below $75 million.

House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said that in 2011, when the state had a $338 million surplus, more than $60 million would have gone into the PEIA Stability Fund if the provisions of House Bill 4625 had existed at that time. Nelson is the bill’s lead sponsor of the bill, which originated in his committee on Tuesday. At that time, Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, called the bill an “elegant solution” to the PEIA funding problem.

But on Wednesday, Bates joined House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, and 32 other Democrats in trying to amend the bill. Their plan was to provide that 100 percent of any surplus would be put into the PEIA Stability Fund up to a maximum of $75 million.

“We just think that this is a reflection of our level of commitment and priority to putting substantial amounts of money into PEIA, so that we’re not here every year having the same problem.” – Delegate Tim Miley

“It shows the commitment to fix – if you can say that – fix the PEIA issue,” Miley said. “We just think that this is a reflection of our level of commitment and priority to putting substantial amounts of money into PEIA, so that we’re not here every year having the same problem.”

Arguing against the proposed change, Nelson reminded delegates that, last year, the legislature needed to put $8 million of the $76 million budget surplus toward fixing the Capitol dome and $30 million into Medicaid. “If we took 100 percent of that [for PEIA], the first thing is some of these extraordinary items would not be able to be touched,” he said. “Secondly, the way that this process is now, half of a surplus remains in general revenue. The other half goes to our Rainy Day Fund. That started in 1994.”

Nelson said the Rainy Day Fund reached more that $900 million in 2014, and currently has $714 million, which is more than 15 percent of general revenue fund money, a level state leaders want to maintain.

“If we were to make a move away from what is proposed even in this bill, rating agencies would look at our state and our lack of maybe putting some stable funds as a backdrop when our economy goes up and down, and thus, we could be at risk for a downgrade,” he said.

House Bill 4625’s provisions to put the first 20 percent of any surplus toward PEIA and then 40 percent toward the Rainy Day Fund and 40 percent toward general revenue is “very prudent,” Nelson said, and it would give the PEIA Finance Board time to work on funding issues. If those provisions had been in place over the last eight years, the Stability Fund would have had $138 million in it, he said.

“We have some good, solid foundations in place,” Nelson said. “We do want to do more, but I would say that this is a little bit overextension at this time.”

The House defeated the Democrats amendment on a vote of 36 to 59.

On Thursday, delegates spent more than an hour and a half discussing the bill before voting on it.

“Is it a cure-all? No, but by all means, it’s meant to show that we mean business in wanting to fix this issue that has been a problem for many years coming. But we cannot fix this overnight.” – Delegate Eric Nelson

“Is it a cure-all?” Nelson asked. “No, but by all means, it’s meant to show that we mean business in wanting to fix this issue that has been a problem for many years coming. But we cannot fix this overnight.”

Many Democrats said they would support the bill but lamented their inability to change it. “We had an opportunity to make this bill so much better – so much better,” Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said. “Sometimes, there’s a need for Band Aids. Sometimes, you could maybe put a couple on, maybe three…. PEIA needs stitches, folks. It needs medical attention and it needs stitches. And we got to get serious about it because sometimes these Band Aids just don’t work.”

The debate went on as teachers and school service workers packed the House galleries and the chants of thousands of their colleagues on the other side of the chamber’s closed doors could be heard.

“These people out here didn’t come here just to have fun,” Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, said. “These folks were uncomfortable. That’s why they’re here. They’re uncomfortable. Let’s give them some security. Let’s sit down. Let’s look at some credible funding sources to help them.”

On the other side, Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, said, “We’ve got several things in the pipeline to fix this issue and to fix it into the next several years, I’m sure. I hope we have all learned two things because of this debate over this issue.”

Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, expressed the position of many Democrats when he said, “Let’s be clear: This is not a permanent fix to PEIA, but I’m going to vote for it.”

“Could we do more?” Nelson asked as he concluded debate. “Yes. Will we do more? Absolutely.” He added, “This is a priority in our budget – has been and will be. And we’ll continue to work on different funding sources, and this is one of those.”

The House approved House Bill 4625 on a vote of 98 to zero. The bill has gone to the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Senate came up with another means of providing a dedicated funding source for PEIA, although it would only bring in money years down the road and only if an expected U.S. Supreme Court ruling would make it possible. It came in the form of an amendment to Senate Bill 415 proposed by Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley. That bill would legalize betting on sports events if the Supreme Court rules to lift a federal prohibition on such gambling in most states.

“Prayers do work. I prayed over the weekend that there would be an opportunity for us to start moving toward fixing PEIA.” – Sen. John Unger

“Prayers do work,” Unger, who is a pastor at churches in the Eastern Panhandle, said as the Senate prepared to vote on his amendment. “I prayed over the weekend that there would be an opportunity for us to start moving toward fixing PEIA…. We still have a deficit in that fund. We still have to identify resources, but this would provide a potential funding source, a dedicated funding source, in order to address the problem.”

The Senate voted 34 to nothing to approve Unger’s amendment. He said it could eventually provide $10 million to $30 million a year for PEIA. The Senate voted 25 to nine to approve Senate Bill 415 and send it to the House of Delegates.

Other legislation offends teachers.

Yet even as the Senate took that step to potentially help teachers and other public employees, it approved another bill that only angered many teachers further. Senate Bill 494 would no longer allow the presidents of the WVEA and AFT-WV to accumulate credit in the Teachers Retirement System for the years they work for their unions rather than in the classrooms. The Senate did accept an amendment from Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, to exempt the two current presidents from the bill’s provisions, but it still is considered by union leaders as an attack on the future of the unions.

The Senate voted 19 to 14 to approve Senate Bill 494 with two Republicans joining Democrats in opposing it.

Other bills that have angered teachers seem to have stalled as the legislature is about to enter the final two weeks of the 60-day regular session. They include bills to reduce the role of seniority in decisions about teacher transfers and layoffs, provide taxpayer-funded vouchers for use at private schools, authorize charter schools and require teachers and school service workers to re-authorize annually for union dues to be taken out of their paychecks. However, if majority Republicans take interest in moving those bills, they still have time to do it before the session ends on March 10.

After two days of a strike that shut down all public schools in all 55 of West Virginia’s counties, it is uncertain how much more teachers and school service workers think they must do to promote their cause for better pay and benefits. Statements from the attorney general and state school superintendent failed to deter them from striking.

“Work stoppages by public employees are not lawful in West Virginia and will have a negative impact on student instruction and classroom time,” Supt. Steve Paine said in a statement released from the Education Department early in the week. “Families will be forced to seek out alternative safe locations for their children, and our many students who depend on schools for daily nutrition will face an additional burden. I encourage our educators to advocate for the benefits they deserve, but to seek courses of action that have the least possible disruption for our students.”

The day before the strike, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued a statement that said, “Let us make no mistake, the impending work stoppage is unlawful. State law and court rulings give specific parties avenues to remedy such illegal conduct, including the option to seek an injunction to end an unlawful strike.”

“Our office is prepared to support any relevant state agency or board with legal remedies they may choose to pursue to uphold the law. We also stand ready to assist and support any county board of education or county superintendent as they enforce the law.” – Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

Further, Morrisey said “Our office is prepared to support any relevant state agency or board with legal remedies they may choose to pursue to uphold the law. We also stand ready to assist and support any county board of education or county superintendent as they enforce the law.”

In Wednesday’s emergency meeting, the state school board authorized Paine and the board’s president, Tom Campbell, to enter discussions with Morrisey’s office and the Justice administration about the then-impending strike. By early Friday morning, none of them had issued any more statements on the situation.

 

 

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Other than legislation related to pay and benefits for teachers and school service workers, several other bills affecting public education moved forward in the House of Delegates in the past week. The House approved bills on mastery-based education, use of excess food from school cafeterias, making vocational training from secondary schools more valuable, and expanding the definition of school zones.

Other bills on teacher induction and retirement for employees of education service cooperatives moved toward possible passage today, while yet another bill on developing a resource to help deaf and hard-of-hearing students cleared the House Education Committee.

On Thursday, the House voted 97 to zero to approve House Bill 3061 on mastery-based education. In would create a separate category of Innovation in Education program grants for that purpose.

“A mastery-based model of education empowers students who master the curriculum objectives quickly to move on to more challenging objectives or elective subjects as soon as they have demonstrated their readiness to undertake them.” – Delegate Paul Espinosa

“A mastery-based model of education empowers students who master the curriculum objectives quickly to move on to more challenging objectives or elective subjects as soon as they have demonstrated their readiness to undertake them,” House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said in explaining the bill to his colleagues. “It is a more personalized and differentiated instructional strategy that focuses on explicit, measurable learning objectives. As the students who master the objectives accelerate to higher levels, additional attention is given to helping all students achieve mastery.”

The bill recognizes that it would require a major shift in instructional strategies, he said, so it would be implemented in a multi-step process. Espinosa said that process would “build broader awareness and understanding, identify roadblocks and possible solutions, and then support a small network of not more than 20 schools who are willing and ready to begin the transition. These schools must participate in an incubator process, where they will learn from and support each other and will be subject to uniform evaluative criteria to measure the success of the innovation.”

Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, said that, when he taught sophomore English more than 30 years ago, he allowed students to test out of grammar sections by achieving 90 percent. They could go to the library to work on alternative projects, he said, and that allowed him to give more individualized instruction to students who needed more help.

“I think this is an excellent bill,” Anderson said.

House Bill 3061 has gone to the Senate.

Bill would avoid wasting food.

House Bill 4478 also received strong support from delegates. It would authorize public schools to create a Shared Table program to allow for distribution of excess school food to students and others who have food insecurities. Other states have similar programs.

Delegates Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire, said most communities have food pantries that would be prepared to take the food. “I think that this is a great bill,” she said. She recalled that, as a teacher doing lunch duty, she would turn her back when a couple of boys went into the trach to retrieve food that others did not want.

Jefferson County Supt. Bondy Shay Gibson was in attendance when the House Education Committee dealt with the bill and assured members that school systems could handle it.

“We already have mechanisms set up to identify those children,” Gibson said. “We have programs now where we send backpack dinners home with students. We review our free and reduced [cost] lunch data. We pull those families in and have conversations with them about what their needs are, and we track their usage of the food that we provide. And we send out hundreds of dinners every single week to these families. We keep a very close count in terms of the waste. We get counts first thing in the morning of lunch: who packs their lunch, who wants to order lunch, who’s ordering breakfast, and we’re going to adhere pretty closely. We don’t have an enormous amount of waste.”

Any prepackaged food left over is put it into backpacks sent home with students, she said. The school system also has a partnership with Jefferson County Community Ministries and several local farmers, she said.

“So there’s already a pretty robust system in place to care for West Virginia families.” – Supt. Bondy Shay Gibson

“So there’s already a pretty robust system in place to care for West Virginia families,” Gibson said. “This would just…keep us from worrying about any legal ramifications and put safety parameters in place.” She added, “We would not encourage our cooks to make extra just to send home.”

When the bill was up for a vote in the House, Espinosa told his colleagues, “Some of our public schools have for several years had backpack programs and other initiatives to provide excess school lunch and breakfast foods to students and local food banks. This bill expands on that effort by establishing a statewide Shared Table initiative.” He also said, “The Shared Table initiative does not require school cafeterias to produce any extra food but simply provides a framework for safely distributing food that is not consumed to students and others who may otherwise go without.”

The House voted 97 to one to approve House Bill 4478 with only Delegate Saira Blair, R-Berkeley, voting against it on Wednesday. The bill has gone to the Senate Education Committee.

Vocational training would get a boost.

Another bill to get House approval this week was House Bill 4428, which would allow training hours earned through public school education or apprenticeship to count towards an applicant’s occupational testing, certification and/or licensure.

“I believe this is an important step for making information on the employment opportunities in skilled technical and craft fields within our state and necessary training more readily available to our students and their parents,” Espinosa said. “In addition, it will help smooth the transition of these students into occupations of interest to them, allowing them to apply rather than repeat the knowledge and skill training they have already required through career and technical apprenticeship and other employer-sponsored training programs.”

Before the bill passed, the House accepted an amendment from Delegate Andrew Robinson, D-Kanawha, to require the Department of Labor, the state school board and the Department of Commerce to develop a list of apprenticeships, certifications, credentials and current workforce needs. It would be distributed annually starting in ninth grade by the state school board.

Strongly endorsing the bill was Delegate Scott Brewer, D-Mason, who said he benefitted from a union-provided apprentice program for carpenters about 40 years ago. He said the union now spends $800,000 to $1 million each year training carpenters without using any taxpayer money. He said 14 building trades unions provide apprenticeship programs.

“Apprenticeship programs, in my opinion, should be promoted to students as furthering education to a career that can be very fulfilling, very long-lasting while they actually earn a living with a livable wage and benefits while they’re learning a trade for a career.” – Delegate Scott Brewer

“Apprenticeship programs, in my opinion, should be promoted to students as furthering education to a career that can be very fulfilling, very long-lasting while they actually earn a living with a livable wage and benefits while they’re learning a trade for a career,” Brewer said.

The House voted 96 to zero to approve House Bill 4478. It has gone to the Senate Education Committee.

Also getting 96-to-zero approval from the House was House Bill 4042, which would expand the definition of a school zone. It would allow the placement of school zone signs in locations where they’re not already permitted, such as where school property is not directly adjacent to a highway. The bill has gone to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The House was scheduled to vote today on two education bills. One of them is House Bill 4619, which would direct 20 percent of the growth in local share money to be used to support the implementation of comprehensive systems for teacher and leader induction and professional growth. The new provisions also would include the factors to be taken into account in making allocations to school districts, provide that a district may not receive less than its 2016-2017 allocation from the line items for teacher mentors and principal mentorships, and require that the moneys allocated are to be used for implementation of comprehensive systems for teacher and leader induction and professional growth.

The other bill scheduled for a vote today is House Bill 4219, which would permit employees of educational services cooperatives to participate in the state Teachers Retirement System. It also would permit persons employed for instructional services by educational services cooperatives to participate in the state’s Teachers’ Defined Contribution Retirement System.

Early this week, the House Education Committee gave its approval to House Bill 4223, which would develop a resource families could use to monitor and track deaf and hard-of-hearing children’s early language acquisition and expression, as well as developmental stages toward English literacy.

At the urging of Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, the committee added one person who is deaf or hard or hearing to an advisory committee. As the brother of a deaf person, he argued that deaf people have a different perception of the world than hearing persons.

“I watched my mom help my brother learn sign language,” Folk said. “I watched her teaching how to read lips. And I think it’s totally wrong if you don’t guarantee there’s one deaf person on this board.”

House Bill 4223 has gone to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.

By Jim Wallace

Outside of legislation on pay and benefits for teachers and school service personnel, the Senate passed one education bill this week and another could be approved as early as Monday.

The approved bill is Senate Bill 319, which would make individuals who completed homeschooling eligible for the PROMISE scholarship without having to obtain a diploma equivalent such as a general equivalency degree (GED) or Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC).

Senate Education Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, explained that home-schoolers already are eligible for PROMISE scholarships but they must be 17 to take the GED or TASC. He said the bill would help students who are ready for college before age 17.

In the Senate Finance Committee, the bill was amended to remove the requirement of having a 3.0 grade-point average to qualify for PROMISE. That was seen as being fair to public and private school students because home-schoolers did not have a similar requirement. As of now, a student still must get a 22 on the ACT to qualify for PROMISE.

“I don’t think requiring the 3.0 is that necessary anymore.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

“I don’t think requiring the 3.0 is that necessary anymore,” Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said. “I do agree with what the Finance Committee did.” He said allowing students below age 17 who can get 22 on ACT to receive a PROMISE scholarship would help keep the best and brightest students in West Virginia.

The Senate voted 34 to nothing to approve Senate Bill 319. The bill has gone to the House Education Committee.

Second bill clears committee.

Senate Bill 573 was scheduled for the second of three required readings in the Senate today. As originally proposed by Mann, the lead sponsor, and two other senators, the bill would have provided that the instructional term for students would begin on the Tuesday after Labor Day and end the Friday before Memorial Day. That provision was stripped from the bill when it was in the Senate Education Committee at a meeting at which Mann did not preside.

Now, its main provision is that a county superintendent would be able to reduce the requirement for 180 instructional days by up to five days by cancelling school days after the primary statewide assessment is administered. Asked about that provision, Clayton Burch, associate state superintendent, said districts have lots of flexibility on the calendar already and, in high school, there no longer is an assessment in grades nine and 10, just in grade 11. That assessment is held on a single day with just one makeup day, he said.

“You do have superintendents that push the idea of let’s finish that early, and let’s continue and prepare for the next year,” he added.

Senate Bill 573 was on schedule to pass in the Senate as early as Monday.

_______

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.