Legislative News

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March 11, 2016 - Volume 36 Issue 9

 

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

By Jim Wallace

A bill that started out with an aim of banning the use of Common Core State Standards and Common Core-associated assessments in West Virginia came out of the Senate Thursday in such a different form that its original title no longer suited it.

“Although that bill started out as a prohibition against the implementation of Common Core standards, it, in fact, does not do that now.” — Dave Sypolt

“I’d like to mention that the short title of this bill is now inaccurate,” Senate Education Chairman Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, told his colleagues just before they approved the bill. “Although that bill started out as a prohibition against the implementation of Common Core standards, it, in fact, does not do that now.”

In its original form, House Bill 4014 was harsh in its treatment of the standards adopted by the state school board. The House Education Committee softened many of the bill’s provisions, but amendments on the House floor went part of the way toward toughening it up again. In the past week, however, the Senate Education Committee spent several hours working on the bill and developed a version that is much different than what the bill’s House sponsors had in mind.

The full Senate approved that new version on Thursday. That was one day after the state school board passed a resolution criticizing House Bill 4014 for attempting to “usurp authority traditionally and appropriately exercised” by the board. The board was particularly critical of legislators’ attempts to tell the board which assessments could be used in the schools.

A big change in the Senate version of the bill is that its findings accept that the state board changed standards late last year from those that were based on Common Core to the West Virginia College- and Career-Readiness Standards, which are not based on Common Core. The original House version contended that the state board had not done enough to move away from Common Core standards.

As Sypolt explained the bill to the Senate, it would keep an Academic Standards Evaluation Panel, but with a different makeup than what the House proposed. Instead of prohibiting the state board from implementing new science standards later this year, the Senate version would let them go into use but add them to the standards the panel would review. But the state board would not be required to adopt the recommendations of the panel, just consider them. However, the board would be required to adopt standards for digital literacy.

In regard to assessments, the Senate version is closer to the House version by forcing the state board to quit using summative assessments associated with Common Core, such as the Smarter Balanced Assessment that West Virginia schools used for the first time last spring and are scheduled to use again this spring. The bill would require the use of tests that fit the description of ACT and ACT Aspire. It would require a college readiness exam, presumably ACT, to be administered to all eleventh-grade students beginning in the 2016-2017 school year. Also, the Senate version removed a provision from the House bill that would have allowed parents to have their children opt out from testing.

“It puts into place moving to a better test. I feel like the test we should move to – and it’s kind of spelled out in this bill – is the ACT test.” — Sen. Chris Walters

“It puts into place moving to a better test,” Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, told colleagues Thursday as he urged support for the Senate version. “I feel like the test we should move to – and it’s kind of spelled out in this bill – is the ACT test.”

Walters, who represented the Senate last year on a Department of Education task force on testing, said the ACT Aspire system provides tests in the third through 10th grades, and that can result in a vertical measure of students through several years of school. ACT and ACT Aspire are compatible from state to state, he said, adding that they are being used in 21 states.

 

State board member defends board’s actions.

As part of the Senate Education Committee’s deliberations over the bill, members spent a long time Monday morning discussing it with Beverly Kingery, who became a state school board member last year after retiring as superintendent of the Nicholas County schools. She urged legislators to be careful about requiring changes in standards and assessments because the current ones are better than those the state had in the past.

“The state department and the state board of education in years past would adopt an assessment,” Kingery said. “Then they would go back and build standards around that, which is backwards.”

By contrast, she said, with the current standards, the assessment is based on the standards, as it should be. That gives the public a truer picture of how each school is performing, she said.

“If you keep changing standards and subsequently keep changing assessments, then you’re always going to be in flux with that system, and then your parents are not going to have a true picture of how their schools and students are performing,” Kingery warned. “I’m not opposed, and I do not feel – talking to other members of the board of education – they’re opposed to looking at other assessments. But to do so in a very quick, expeditious manner, as set forth in this bill, is not logical for school systems. It’s not timely and it’s not logical.

To legislators who have suggested the state should switch from the Smarter Balanced Assessment to the ACT, she said even a representative of ACT has told the state board that ACT is not ready for that kind of use. In regard to end-of-course exams, which some legislators would like to have, Kingery said she likes the concept and has spoken about them with officials from Alabama, North Carolina and the Southern Regional Education Board. But she said the board must know it is getting the best option before getting rid of the Smarter Balanced Assessment, which aligns well with the state’s current standards.

But Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, indicated he was confused about why the board would want to continue using Smarter Balanced, which was designed to go with Common Core, even though West Virginia’s current standards are not based on Common Core. Kingery replied that a study put out by the Fordham Institute in January found that the current standards align better with Smarter Balanced than with any other assessment that is available. She assured him that the state board is looking at other assessments, including ACT Aspire.

“But until we can be certain that that is truly aligned and the best assessment, I think it would be better to stay with what we have for the whole accountability system,” she said.

Most of the problems with Smarter Balanced, when West Virginia schools gave the tests for the first time last spring, were on the “physical end” with computers and technology, Kingery said. She was still superintendent in Nicholas County at that time.

“Some of the counties that have talked the loudest and said they had the most problems were the ones that did not get ready within that two-year window. And we were given explicit instructions from the state Department of Education of how to have all the technology ready.” — Beverly Kingery

“We knew, and all counties knew two years ahead of time this was coming,” she said. “And we knew two years ahead of time how we had to get our computers ready and what we had to do with students and what we had to do with scheduling. Nicholas County maybe had one or two little glitches at most. And I have to be honest: Some of the counties that have talked the loudest and said they had the most problems were the ones that did not get ready within that two-year window. And we were given explicit instructions from the state Department of Education of how to have all the technology ready.”

Carmichael still expressed skepticism about why the state board would want to continue using Smarter Balanced even though the board has adopted standards not based on Common Core. Kingery told him that she has looked at many sets of standards and found that about 80 percent of them are about the same.

“When you look at standards, there is only a certain way you can teach certain skills no matter how you write it on a piece of paper,” she said.

Smarter Balanced not only uses multiple-choice questions like other assessments do but it also requires students to show how they perform when applying knowledge, Kingery said. “We can’t find an assessment just yet that also measures that performance level, and we certainly want to understand not only if our children have the rote skills but how they’re applied,” she said.

On the issue of using ACT instead of Smarter Balanced, Kingery said she asked a representative of ACT whether his test could distinguish between college-bound students and career-technical students, and he said ACT has no way to separate them.

“As we all know, ACT favors college-bound students,” she said. “So we could see a very significant drop in scores if all students are taking ACT across the board initially.”

Also, Kingery said, ACT has problems accommodating students with disabilities. ACT and other assessments are coming under fire from the Department of Justice on that matter, she said. In addition, ACT is not aligned to West Virginia’s standards, she said.

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, asked if Kingery ever heard complaints about standards prior to Common Core. She said there were some complaints each time standards changed.

“Anytime you change anything in a classroom, teachers are fearful because it’s fear of the unknown,” she said. “Once they’ve had the appropriate training, they have no problem with the standards they’re teaching.”

Romano said he was surprised by the simplicity of the current standards when he looked at them. When he asked if teachers worked on the standards, Kingery said they did.

“Those are West Virginia teachers. They’re not out-of-state teachers. They’re not somebody mandated by some secret federal government to come down and put curriculum in our schools.” — Sen. Mike Romano

“Those are West Virginia teachers,” Romano said for clarification. “They’re not out-of-state teachers. They’re not somebody mandated by some secret federal government to come down and put curriculum in our schools.”

Kingery responded, “In my experience in writing standards, the only time we had out-of-state experts come in was just for guidance to the West Virginia educators writing the standards.”

Asked when that occurred, she said it was from the late 1970s on.

“I’m concerned about changing standards every year,” Romano said and asked if that would disrupt teachers.

“Yes, it takes quite a process,” Kingery said, adding that she had explained it to the House Education Committee when the bill was considered there. “It takes several years and quite a process for a county, and of course it takes funding, to train teachers. And it’s quite a complicated process over time, and it takes at least a minimum of two years to get all of your folks trained so they have an initial understanding of how to teach those standards in the classroom.”

 

Kingery liked Smarter Balanced better than past tests.

Asked if she had heard other complaints about the Smarter Balanced Assessment, Kingery said some people complained about the scores. “I was pleased when I saw the scores, and I’ll tell you why, because they were closer to the NAEP [National Assessment of Education Progress] scores than we’ve ever been. So in my estimation, we finally had for the first time a true measure of where our students were, and then we truly knew where we needed to move them to.”

When Romano asked what fixes were needed in regard to testing with Smarter Balanced,

Kingery said the state school board and the Education Department learned to place the tests closer to the end of the school year, to do a better job of scheduling and what technology is needed in schools.

“Some schools had plenty of technology,” she said. “They had exactly what they needed.”

Some teachers at a middle school sought her help in writing a grant to get more technology to help with testing, not only Smarter Balanced but also other types of formative testing they do all year long, Kingery said. They got the grant and acquired 50 more computers for their school, she said.

“So we have good educators out there that know what the problems are. They don’t have a problem with the test, but they have a problem with trying to fix the logistics of the test.” — Beverly Kingery

“So we have good educators out there that know what the problems are,” she said. “They don’t have a problem with the test, but they have a problem with trying to fix the logistics of the test. And in that one school, that’s exactly what they did. They didn’t sit around and complain. They helped solve their own problem.”

Asked about providing incentives to students for taking the tests, Kingery said the Higher Education Policy Commission has taken a “tremendous” step in that regard by saying that students achieving test levels three or four are considered proficient. This year, any student who scores a three or a four in a subject will not have to take remedial courses in that subject in college, she said. If she were still superintendent, she said, she would send home a flier with 11th grade students telling parents how much they could save on college costs if the students do well on the tests.

But an opponent of Common Core and Smarter Balanced, Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, wanted to know why Kingery preferred to stick with Smarter Balanced instead of switch to ACT, especially considering ACT has been in the testing business longer. Kingery said she knows that Smarter Balanced is aligned to the state’s current standards, while “ACT has admitted that they have some problems and some flaws, and they’re in the process of correcting those.”

Karnes complained that the unelected state school board was trying to have its way against opposition from the elected legislature. Kingery said not everyone sees it that way.

“I have a lot of people that say this process was difficult at the beginning because it was more rigorous and it was something we had never done before, but once we started doing it, then we understand it and we don’t want to go back,” she said.

Then Karnes suggested going back to teaching and testing as they were done in the 1930s.

“Math all the way through calculus has seen no significant changes since 1920 or 1930,” he said. “The alphabet is still the same alphabet. Reading skills are still the same reading skills. And yet, the people who were trained in the schools at that particular time are the people who built the world we live in today. They invented the microwave and the computer and the television and the radio – well, the radio was a little before then – telephones as we see them, cellular technology and so on. So we have a generation that came out of no standards that seemed to understand the material very well, and today, we focus on these standards that are very much siloed, and we don’t really know what our kids are learning. Were they doing a bad job back then?”

“We’re dealing with a totally different world now, totally different,” Kingery said. “Our students need to know skills now that they never would have even have dreamed of…. We are preparing our students for jobs we haven’t even created yet. And that’s a scary thought when you think about that. In 1930, yes, we had a good workforce, but we are now preparing our students for things we don’t even know exist yet. So we have to think above and beyond boundaries when we’re preparing our students.”

“Did the people of the 1920s have any idea what they were training people for whenever it came to jobs or did they just train them to be good thinkers, and then they were able to fill whatever jobs became available?” — Sen. Robert Karnes

Karnes asked, “Did the people of the 1920s have any idea what they were training people for whenever it came to jobs or did they just train them to be good thinkers, and then they were able to fill whatever jobs became available?”

“It’s true all along the way,” Kingery said, “But you always take the system you have and you try to make it a little bit better. I can see tremendous change from 1974, when I started, until now. And I’ve made this statement many times: I wish I knew then what I know now about teaching and how students learn. I would go back, and I would do things so differently for some of those students.”

Karnes reiterated, “It seemed like the education system we had in the 30s in this state, even though we were a poor state in the 40s and then in the 50s, was doing a much better job than what we’re seeing today.”

Kingery responded, “I think that’s left for interpretation because back then we didn’t have a way to measure our students and know exactly what they were doing and where we needed to move them next.”

Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said he represented the Senate at a meeting in Denver about getting more students to complete college. “It was brought up that the ACT test had lost luster,” he said. Kingery said, “There are some issues, and there have been, with SAT and ACT. Both of those organizations are aware of that, and they’re working to repair those problems.”

“When people fussed about Common Core to me, it seemed like they were fussing more about how the change and the delivery of those standards was going on rather than the Common Core standards themselves.” — Sen. Mike Hall

Hall said he didn’t understand what critics found was wrong with the Common Core standards. “When people fussed about Common Core to me, it seemed like they were fussing more about how the change and the delivery of those standards was going on rather than the Common Core standards themselves,” he said.

Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, expressed concern about a provision in the House version of the bill that would have allowed parents to opt their children out of testing. He said tests are less likely to provide useful information if significant chucks of students don’t take them.

Agreeing with that, Kingery said she spoke with national experts about opt-out provisions. There is great concern at the federal level about that, she said, and federal education law still makes states responsible for having at least 95 percent of students take the tests.

Trump said that schools would end up with no data for students who opt out of testing. Kingery said it would make it difficult for a teacher to build instruction if 20 percent to 25 percent of students in a class did not take a test. “The test is not everything you need to know about a student, but it gives you a very good starting point,” she said.

 

Principals’ organization wants different tests.

But Mike Kelly of the West Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals told the committee that his group doesn’t like the Smarter Balanced Assessment. “We want individualized instruction, but yet we give a standardized test,” he said. “We feel that it’s a poor assessment. The fact that you see a disparity of 30 to 35 percent difference between the number of students who are proficient in reading/language arts to the number of students who are proficient in math – and that’s almost across the board at almost every school.”

But Sen. Bob Plymale, a former chairman of the Senate Education Committee, challenged Kelly on that. “There may be a disparity in your mind, but there’s not a disparity when I see the number of kids that are having remedial classes [in college],” he said. “So I think it’s a little more true reflection of really what’s going on. All we’re trying to do and all we should be doing from the legislature is a bright light standard of what’s really actually happening. Are students being prepared?”

“I would like a little more balanced assessment that can give me the information that I need. We as an organization do not have faith in this particular assessment.” — Mike Kelly

“That varies from place to place,” Kelly said. “I would like a little more balanced assessment that can give me the information that I need. We as an organization do not have faith in this particular assessment.”

“Well, I’ll be honest with you,” Plymale, D-Wayne, said. “I’m having a little trouble having faith on what we’ve been doing in the past, too, because when I start seeing the amount of kids that are going to remedial [courses]. Why aren’t you worried about preparing the students for the workplace of tomorrow?”

Kelly insisted that principals are concerned about that. But he added, “It’s not the end of the world if kids have to take remedial courses.”

Plymale said West Virginia is finally getting public education and higher education to align their courses. “What has been adopted by the state board is actually public ed. and higher ed. coming together and saying these are college- and career-readiness standards,” he said. “This alignment is finally where we’ve been wanting to get it as a state.”

 

Senate version would not prohibit teaching climate science.

Before the Senate voted on the new version of standards bill, Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, asked “Will our teachers be able to teach about any human impact on our climate?” Sypolt assured him that the provision the House had put into the bill to prohibit new science standards from going into effect for the next school year had been removed, so there would be no restrictions on teaching about climate science. Woelfel said he needed to know that after hearing that some members of the House wanted to make sure that teachers could not teach that human activities might be causing the climate to change.

“I wanted to make sure that our teachers are going to be able to allow our students to keep up with the rest of the country when it comes to science.” — Sen. Mike Woelfel

“So I shouldn’t have any reservations that our teachers are going to be in a position where they would be sanctioned in some way if they let a curriculum be implemented that we do, in fact, have an issue in our world with changes in our climate,” he said. “I wanted to make sure that our teachers are going to be able to allow our students to keep up with the rest of the country when it comes to science.”

The Senate approved its version of House Bill 4014 on a vote of 22 to 12. For the bill to become law, the Senate and House would have to agree on how to reconcile their vastly different versions of the bill. Last year, an anti-Common Core bill died at the end of the legislative session when the two chambers could not settle differences on their versions of it. Even if the legislature would pass a compromise version of this year’s bill, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin could kill it with a veto.

 

By Jim Wallace

Several education-related bills are still under consideration by the legislature as members head for the end of their 60-day session tomorrow evening at midnight. Each one was still making its way through the process going into today’s meetings.

Bills that were still pending cover such subjects as Innovation Zones, school construction funding, personnel deadlines, protection of student data and standards for computer science.

House Bill 4295 is legislation proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to replace the current Innovation Zones programs with a program that would designate Innovation in Education schools. They would have to demonstrate innovation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), community-school partnership, and entrepreneurship or career pathways. 

Funding for the current programs for Innovation Zones and Local Solution Dropout Prevention and Recovery Innovation Zones, would end after June 30. Senate Education Chairman Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, said about $2.5 million would be diverted into the new program.

“I think this is a good step in the right direction. Some of the bills that we have passed were trying to narrowly focus what the board does. I think the board is constitutionally protected. I think this has been one of the greatest programs that we have had here in this state.” — Sen. Bob Plymale

“I think the governor has done something very good, and I really appreciate the body here expanding the purview of the board of education in what we’re doing,” Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said. “I think this is a good step in the right direction. Some of the bills that we have passed were trying to narrowly focus what the board does. I think the board is constitutionally protected. I think this has been one of the greatest programs that we have had here in this state.”

Plymale said Cabell County, which he represents, has made good use of the current Innovation Zones law. “I think there are vast things that we can do with this, and I really appreciate us giving the board authority to be able to help create these opportunities for us,” he said.

Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, also endorsed the bill. “I think it is a great concept, and I think we do need to continue pushing this,” he said. “I think the governor has done a good job also.”

The Senate approved House Bill 4295 on a vote of 34 to nothing. The House previously approved the bill on a vote of 99 to zero. When the Senate approved the bill on Tuesday, it amended its title. For the bill to go to the governor, the House must accept that amendment or reach another accommodation with the Senate.

 

Bill would make more counties eligible for SBA funds.

A bill that would affect School Building Authority funding is House Bill 4461. It would change an eligibility requirement for School Major Improvement Fund projects to avoid penalizing county school boards that reduce maintenance costs through improved preventive and predictive maintenance practices. The current eligibility threshold is a dollar amount annual expenditure at least equal to the lowest annual maintenance expenditure in three of the last five years. It would be replaced with a submission of annual facility maintenance expenditure data for joint review by the School Building Authority and the Education Department’s Office of School Facilities and Transportation to assist in determination of the most meritorious projects for funding.

Sypolt said the gist of this bill is that it would not require an increase in maintenance funds for the previous five years to be eligible for School Building Authority funding provided that a school is meeting its maintenance requirements adequately. But when the bill was before the Senate Education Committee, Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, said he was confused about the potential effects of the bill.

“I’m trying to figure out if this is a good or bad thing based on the scenario I gave you. I mean literally I represent a county that’s got its fingers stuck in the dike, and buildings are falling down, and we absolutely need SBA funding assistance, and I do not want to see something that appears innocuous to affect our ability to tender a competitive application.” — Sen. Bill Laird

“If you have county schools that are in serious dilapidated conditions, obviously it would appear to me that your maintenance costs are likely to escalate and your efforts to try to keep and maintain crumbling or dilapidated facilities,” Laird said. “I’m trying to figure out if this is a good or bad thing based on the scenario I gave you. I mean literally I represent a county that’s got its fingers stuck in the dike, and buildings are falling down, and we absolutely need SBA funding assistance, and I do not want to see something that appears innocuous to affect our ability to tender a competitive application.”

Amy Willard, executive director of the Department of Education’s Office of School Finance, explained that, in recent years, as districts have built facilities or entered into energy-saving management contracts that allow them to be more efficient, they have become ineligible for major improvement projects.

“The intent of this bill would be to make it more subjective for the SBA and the state department’s Office of School Facilities to look at the maintenance expenditures of the counties and make sure that they are still doing what they need to do to maintain their school buildings,” she said. “But it wouldn’t be tied to a specific formula.”

Willard added, “A lot of the counties that do not have an excess levy find it very difficult to qualify under the current criteria because they don’t have excess funds available to put into maintenance. So therefore they can’t meet one of those criteria in the very specific formula. So they don’t qualify. This year, there were 24 county boards that were not eligible. Last year, there were 27. The year before, there were 24 that just simply aren’t eligible based on this criteria.”

But Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, wondered whether it would be better to go to a subjective process than to stick with an empirical formula. Willard said it would benefit some counties.

“I think it does provide some leeway for the Office of School Facilities to perhaps help the SBA make some recommendations on projects,” she said. “We have inspectors in that office that are out in the schools looking at all the schools and may be able to provide some insight as to what the needs are in those counties.”

Sypolt said, “Basically, this doesn’t change the evaluation process. It just allows counties which are in tight fiscal situation who are unable to show the maintenance effort to have the ability to apply for it. So they’re not dismissed out of hand.”

“Correct,” Willard said. “It will allow more counties to apply for these projects.”

House Bill 4461 was on track for a vote in the Senate today. It passed in the House late last month on a vote of 82 to four.

 

Bill would try to improve school leadership.

Another bill on track for a vote in the Senate today is House Bill 4301. It would initiate a comprehensive transformation in school leadership through a process that would include broad stakeholder input under the state board of education to assist in developing recommendations to the legislature and the governor.

“This is leadership ladder legislation that’s being implemented in many other states,” Sypolt said. “I know that it’s recommended by certain regional and national education organizations to provide a way for teachers to advance and become principals and superintendents and that sort of thing.”

Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the House Education Committee, told the Senate Education Committee that this is the second year such legislation has been attempted. He said Imagine West Virginia, a nonprofit research and development organization, started the push for it.

Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the Department of Education, said the department was comfortable with the bill.

The House approved House Bill 4301 on a vote of 96 to three last week.

 

Competing versions of funding special needs students are in play.

A bill designed to provide a more equitable disbursement of funds to county school boards to lessen the budgetary effects of serving high-acuity special needs students, who tend to have costs about three times those of average students, still could pass in the Senate but it must get out of the Senate Finance Committee first. The Senate Education Committee approved House Bill 2202 and sent it to the Finance Committee this week, but that committee had not yet put the bill on its agenda going into today.

When the Senate Education Committee had the bill, it took out everything the House had put into it and substituted the provisions of Senate Bill 321, which addresses the same issue. Hank Hager, counsel for the committee, said that version of the bill would not just provide a new method for distribution of funding but also new funding.

Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said the cost would be about $2 million, and he urged Finance Committee Chairman Mike Hall, R-Putnam, to put it on his committee’s agenda.

“It’s really important for the counties. There are a few that are affected disproportionately like Hampshire County because of the existence of the Potomac Center there. They have a disproportionately high number of students that fall within that definition of high acuity.” — Sen. Charles Trump

“It’s really important for the counties,” Trump said. “There are a few that are affected disproportionately like Hampshire County because of the existence of the Potomac Center there. They have a disproportionately high number of students that fall within that definition of high acuity.”

If the Senate Finance Committee would approve the bill and the full Senate subsequently would approve it, House Bill 2202 still would face significant hurdles. If the House would not accept the way the Senate changed it, a conference committee would have to work out the differences, and then both chambers would have to approve the compromised version. That is possible, but it would require quite a bit of action before Saturday evening.

 

Bill would change schedule for personnel actions.

On schedule for a vote in the Senate on Saturday is House Bill 4566, which would change the final deadlines for personnel actions and make related changes.

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, told the Senate Education Committee that the bill has very good provisions that are needed, but it needs a couple of  “tweaks.” His concerns were about early childhood education aides, who have been set up as paraprofessionals. Changes made last year have made it difficult for other aides to transfer in to become early childhood education aides, he said.

However, Lee said, special education aides have been paying for training themselves and then transferring into positions as early education aides, which have a better pay grade. That is adding to the shortage of special education aides, he said. It’s possible problems in the bill could be fixed on the Senate floor, he said, because such corrections had been discussed.

 

Bill would require computer science standards.

Another bill on track for possible approval on Saturday is House Bill 4730. It would require a plan to be submitted by the state school board to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability prior to the 2017 legislative session on the implementation of computer science instruction and learning standards in the public schools. The recommendations in the plan are to include all grade levels, becoming more specific for interested students at the secondary level and include recommendations for teaching standards and endorsements, if necessary. The recommendations would be implemented over four years and include any associated additional costs.

“The school day is so short compared to what has to go in…. It seems like we keep piling on the plate. Eventually, the plate’s going to crumble.” — Sen. John Unger

“I think this is a good thing,” Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said, but he was concerned about adding another requirement for schools. “The school day is so short compared to what has to go in…. It seems like we keep piling on the plate. Eventually, the plate’s going to crumble.”

But Unger was assured that the bill would do nothing more than establish a plan.

Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said he supported the bill. The idea comes from the Southern Regional Education Board, he said, and it would help students learn computer coding and get jobs. He said such training should start as early as seventh or eighth grade.

“This really makes a lot of sense to do that, and if we can be one of the first states that does this, along with Arkansas and some of the others, I think this is something that you’ll find will have great matriculation into jobs of the future,” Plymale said.

 

Bill would protect student data.

Also on schedule to get through the Senate on Saturday is House Bill 4261, which would prohibit the sale or transfer of student data to vendors and other profit-making entities. When the bill was before the Senate Education Committee this week, Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, proposed an amendment to add biometric information, body-mass index, genetic information, credit card data and consumer credit scores to the student data that would be protected. But other senators saw problems with that.

“From a public health standpoint, I have real concerns about that because we’ve come a long way in our obesity fight in West Virginia largely, I think, because of the CARDIAC Project – Coronary Artery Rick Detection in Appalachian Children,” Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said. “In fact, data from that has changed the screening guidelines on the national level to urge universal screening of all children in the fifth grade, or prepubescent, because once you get into your teen years and mature then all those levels change dramatically.”

That effort has found several children with a genetic disease that dramatically increases their risk for coronary artery disease, he said. Another concern Stollings expressed was for school-based health clinics, which uses de-identified data. Not being able to collect the data would be a reversal for public health, he said.

“I think we’re going down a slippery slope of harming – in a form of public health – our students.” — Sen. Ron Stollings

“I think we’re going down a slippery slope of harming – in a form of public health – our students,” Stollings said.

Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the Education Department, also urged senators to be careful to safeguard the health data collected by school nurses. “It’s essential to the health of our students in school to be able to have medical information to address their needs,” she said. “We have very severe diabetics. We have some with severe allergies.”

Unger said, “I just think that the senator’s amendment, although well intended, could have some consequences that could create a ripple effect.” He added, “If it becomes an issue, we always have another time to come back a tweak it.”

The committee approved House Bill 4261 without the amendment. The Senate read it the first time on Thursday, so it is on track to pass on Saturday.

 

Chambers differ on bills to protect student safety.

Two bills addressing the safety of students have passed in both chambers but in different versions, so the House and Senate must reconcile their differences for the bills to complete the legislative process.

Senate Bill 13 would increase the penalties for overtaking and passing a school bus stopped for the purpose of receiving and discharging children. It also would provide penalties in the event that the driver of the passing vehicle could not be ascertained. House approved it on a vote of 94 to three with three members absent last Friday. But the House and Senate couldn’t agree on one version of the bill so it has been in the hands of a conference committee this week.

Senate Bill 476 would authorize county boards of education to expand school zones to roads adjacent to school property. House approved it on a vote of 94 to three with three members absent last Friday. Since then, the Senate went along with changes the House made, but it awaits House approval of other changes.

Up for possible passage in the House today was Senate Bill 378, which deals with truancy. It would clarify what constitutes an excused absence. It also would ensure that the various excused absences are described with sufficient specificity to enable enforcement of those provisions by the courts.

Another bill that was on track to pass today is House Bill 4316. It 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 would require the submission of satisfactory evidence to the West Virginia Department of Education, rather than relying on a specific parameter of NBPTS that could change.

“I know this has been hugely popular,” Unger said. “I know of several teachers that are aspiring to do this, and I know of ones that have this, and I just think any incentive that we can give our educators to further their education and become more proficient is only a positive thing for us to do.”

House Bill 4316 also was popular in the House, which approved it on a vote of 98 to zero.

Also on track for a final vote in the House today was Senate Bill 267. It would alter the procedure for removing certain local officials from office, including school board members. Delegates had a long discussion of the bill Thursday and indicated much dissension on the bill.

 

By Jim Wallace

The only suspense left about several bills is whether Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will approve them. Among the bills that have completed the legislative process and gone to the governor are those dealing with the school calendar, school construction funding and a program for at-risk students.

The school calendar legislation, House Bill 4171, would remove the requirement for schools to have 180 “separate” days of instruction. It also would provide that the school calendar could begin no earlier than August 10 and end no later than June 10. Other provisions of the bill would:

  • Stipulate that the preparation day at the beginning of the school year must be reserved for classroom preparation and collaborative meetings and may be used for other purposes only if teachers agree.
  • Change the number of faculty senate days from four to six to match state board policy and add flexibility in scheduling faculty senate meetings from once every 45 days to once in the first month of school, one in the last month of school and once each in the months of October, December, February and April.
  • Provide that additional minutes that have been accrued should be used first to make up lost time due to early dismissals or late arrivals. Then remaining accrued minutes could be used to make up for days lost to inclement weather or emergencies.

Asked what removing the requirement for 180 “separate” days of instruction would do,

“If there are a block of days in the middle of winter that are missed due to inclement weather, [school districts] don’t necessarily have to extend the school year provided they can make up for their instructional time with the accrued minutes from throughout the year.” — Dave Sypolt

Senate Education Chairman Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, said, “If there are a block of days in the middle of winter that are missed due to inclement weather, [school districts] don’t necessarily have to extend the school year provided they can make up for their instructional time with the accrued minutes from throughout the year.”

The Senate approved House Bill 4171 on a vote of 32 to two with Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, and Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, voting against it. The House, which previously approved the bill on a vote of 94 to five, accepted a minor change the Senate made, so the bill went to Gov. Tomblin.

 

Funds for SBA would be reduced, but less than for current year.

The House considered another bill, Senate Bill 400, this week as a combination of good news and bad news. The bill would reduce the amount of sales tax proceeds dedicated to the School Major Improvement Fund by $999,996 for the fiscal year 2017, which will begin in July, and reduce the amount of sales tax proceeds dedicated to the School Construction Fund by $3 million for that fiscal year.

“Keep in mind, last year we took $8 million. This year we’re only taking $4 million.” — Eric Householder

Although that is about $4 million less for school construction projects to be awarded by the School Building Authority, House Finance Vice Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, told his colleagues, “Keep in mind, last year we took $8 million. This year we’re only taking $4 million.”

But Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, said, “The bottom line is there will be less money available for improvement to our schools. Is that fair to say?”

Householder replied, “You could also say it’s less money that we’re taking out than we did last year. We took out $8 million last year. This year, we’re only going to take out $4 million.”

The House approved Senate Bill 400 on a vote of 63 in favor, 33 against and four members absent.

 

Districts would have to pay tuition to academy.

Another bill that finished its legislative journey when it passed in the House this week is Senate Bill 459. It would require the state school board to promulgate a rule that would require payment of tuition by county school boards to the Mountaineer Challenge Academy for each student from their school districts who graduates from the academy with a high school diploma.

The academy, which is at Camp Dawson in Preston County, is considered very successful in meeting the educational needs of some of the state’s most at-risk youth. It runs two classes of 125 students each annually. The bill would provide an opportunity to increase the number of students the academy can handle up to 400. It would have 75 percent of the per-student aid dollars go to the academy and the other 25 percent would stay with the local school board for each student.

Currently, students are funded 25 percent by state money and a match of 75 percent from the Department of Defense. State officials want to expand the program because of its success with students who otherwise would drop out of school. About 80 percent earn high school diplomas, and among them, 17 percent go into the military. Many of the others who don’t earn diplomas end up in vocational school or other forms of training.

“This is an opportunity that we have to help youth that are in great need of help, to help our school systems, to help families, and to really turn some young people around,” Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said. “I think it’s been an outstanding program in the past. I think it has the opportunity to be expanded even further.”

Delegate Randy Smith, R-Preston, said some students at the academy go up several grade levels in reading and math.

Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, called it one of the best programs in West Virginia for alternative placement. “The reason we only gave them 75 percent of the allowance is they’re only there six months at a time, and if you’ll do the statistical analysis I have, you’ll notice that the graduation rate for West Virginia went up a few points last year, and it was because we now allow those fellows and girls there to get a diploma out of there from their home school,” he said. Then he added that he has proposed a resolution for the legislature to consider establishing another such academy or two.

House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, also praised the academy for meeting the needs of students who can’t get those needs met at their home schools, despite the best efforts of those schools.  He said the bill would allow funding for the students to move with them to the academy. 

House Health and Human Resources Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, noted that expanding the academy was one of the suggestions received by the Select Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse. He also is chairman of that committee.

“It does help West Virginia with the dropout rate,” she said. “It will help us increase our students getting high school diplomas.” — Del. Denise Campbell

Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, said she knows several individuals from her district who have been successful at the academy. “It does help West Virginia with the dropout rate,” she said. “It will help us increase our students getting high school diplomas.”

The House approved Senate Bill 459 on a vote of 98 to nothing with two members absent. It earlier passed in the Senate on a vote of 33 to zero with one member absent.

Another bill that went to the governor this week is Senate Bill 483. It would grant a waiver for the purpose of increasing the compulsory school attendance age in Marshall County and Wyoming County. The House approved it 88 to nine with three members absent. The Senate approved House amendments on a vote of 34 to one.

 

By Jim Wallace

The Senate and the House of Delegates have come up with several resolutions calling for legislators to study specific issues regarding public education during their interim meetings leading up to next year’s regular legislative session. They do that each year. Generally, the resolutions are to allow them to give further consideration to subjects that did not get enough attention or that were addressed in bills that failed to survive the 60-day regular session.

In movie terms, the resolutions are something like previews of coming attractions

Here are some of the study resolutions this year:

  • Senate Concurrent Resolution 61: Requesting a study on the best methods to enhance communication between teachers, parents and students to promote student success.
  • Senate Concurrent Resolution 63: Requesting a study on the demand for, and shortage of, teachers throughout West Virginia.
  • House Concurrent Resolution 101: Requesting a study on the areas remaining from the January 3, 2012, Efficiency Audit of West Virginia’s Primary and Secondary Education System conducted by Public Works, LLC, that require legislative action to accomplish.
  • House Concurrent Resolution 102: Requesting a study on the enrollment of students solely for participation in extracurricular activities.
  • House Concurrent Resolution 103: Requesting a study on the educational effects and budgetary and funding formula consequences of education savings accounts.
  • House Concurrent Resolution 104: Requesting a study on the composition, qualifications, terms and duties of the state board of education, including the need for any constitutional amendments to clarify the scope of its authority.
  • House Concurrent Resolution 105: Requesting a study of the composition and terms of the School Building Authority.
  • House Concurrent Resolution 109: Requesting a study of the feasibility of public virtual online schools.

The House Education Committee also considered, but rejected, a resolution to study charter schools. Some members said they thought the legislature already had studied that subject enough.

 

By Jim Wallace

Three other bills not only got through the legislature but already have been signed by the governor. They are:

  • Senate Bill 146, which would establish instruction standards for early childhood education.
  • Senate Bill 369, which would reduce legislative education reporting requirements.
  • House Bill 4175, which would relax requirements on home-schoolers. 

 

By Jim Wallace

Several bills that passed in either the House of Delegates or the Senate seemed to die in the past week when they could not get out of committees to which they had been assigned. They included bills addressing flexibility in School Aid Formula funding, specialized contract instructors, regional meetings of county school boards, ethics of public officials and an agency that handles insurance for education employees. Also, a bill to change the composition of the Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board that was close to passage got sidelined Thursday in the House.

There are ways to revive seemingly dead legislation, so no bill is absolutely dead until the legislative session ends on Saturday evening. But going into the last two days of the session, these bills looked as though they would not survive.

A bill that the House passed with all 100 members voting in favor of it died in the Senate Education Committee this week after members became concerned about its effects on funding for school systems in the counties they represent. The committee rejected a motion to send House Bill 4466 on to the Senate Finance Committee with only three senators voting in favor of it and seven voting against it.

“It sound to me like it’s a bill run amuck.” — Sen. Mike Romano

“It sound to me like it’s a bill run amuck,” Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said shortly before the vote. He said it seemed to have started with a good plan to change the School Aid Formula but ended up cutting funds for school districts.

Before the bill came over to the Senate, House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, D-Jefferson, said it would provide “a more rational base” for determining funding levels for school districts. He said it would do that in four ways:

  • For Step 1 and 2, the funding strategy for the allowance for professional educators and for service personnel would be changed to fund state aid-eligible positions per 1,000 students at the full statutory ratios rather than the number employed up to that ratio. Espinosa said it would remove the potential for counties to be penalized if they would miss a ratio, such as 72.45 professionals per 1,000 students, which would cause them to lose funding for the next school year. He said that happened this year in Braxton, Clay, Gilmer, Monongalia and Wirt counties. The change would allow counties to consider ways to share employees without giving funding for those positions.
  • For Step 4, the allowance for transportation costs, a provision would be added to allow up to 20 percent, not exceeding $200,000, of the funds restricted for bus purchases to be used for facility and equipment repair, maintenance and improvement or replacement of other current expense priorities. The county superintendent would have to request approval from the state superintendent for such diversion of funds.
  • For Step 6a, which is for other current expenses, the current allowance would be replaced by a cost per square foot of school buildings for operations and maintenance, using state averages. The allowance would be 70.25 percent of that amount. The current allowance is based on 10 percent of salaries, and state average salaries have been declining for several years, but expenses for utilities, operations and maintenance have not. The change would bring the funding method more in line with expenses.
  • For Step 7, the allowance to improve instruction and instructional technology, the proportion of the growth in local share going to technology would be increased to 25 percent. The base allocation for each county would be increased to $50,000, and districts would be authorized, if approved by the state superintendent, to employ up to one technology systems specialist or one per 1,000 students, whichever would be greater.

Espinosa said the bill would carry forward two of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s cuts from the current fiscal year at $3.7 million from the line for improving instructional programs and $147,630 from Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs). But it would restore more than $8.5 million to the School Aid Formula, he said.

“The good aspect of the bill is that you’re funding the positions. For example, if you can’t fill a position this year, then you’re not being penalized for that the following year.” — Dale Lee

When the bill went before the Senate Education Committee, Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, did not endorse the bill but said it had some good provisions. “The good aspect of the bill is that you’re funding the positions,” he said. “For example, if you can’t fill a position this year, then you’re not being penalized for that the following year.”

To explain further, Lee said that in a school district has a position for a speech pathologist but can’t find someone certified to fill that position during a school year, the district would lose funding for the position for the following year under current provisions in the School Aid Formula. However, House Bill 4466 would allow the district to keep the funding and possibly use it to fill the position the following year, he said.

But Lee said he also was concerned about seeing school districts lose more funding. He said the 1 percent cut in the School Aid Formula this year has been devastating to counties, especially combined with loss of enrollment dollars and money that should have been recaptured into education. He noted that education once made up 56 percent of the state’s general revenue budget, but now it is down to 41 percent and will continue to drop. Legislators must decide if students are a priority, Lee said.

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said, “I see no good coming out of this.” He said it looked as though a lot of money would be cut from school districts. Lee responded, “If you were fully funding it, it would be much better.”

Amy Willard, executive director of school finance for the Department of Education, said the bill would cut funding to districts overall by $2.8 million. The majority of it would be used to help balance the state budget, she said.

Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, remarked, “So once again, we’re balancing the state budget off our children.”

Willard said districts would lose the most money in Step 7a, which is for improvement of instructional programs. Of those funds, 25 percent could be used for personnel if approved by the state superintendent, she said.

Romano noted that one county in his senatorial district, Harrison County, would lose $164,500. He said the House should have approved the Senate-passed bill to increase the tobacco tax, which would have provided the government with more funding.

When the Senate Education Committee voted on whether to send House Bill 4466 on to the House Finance Committee, only three members voted in favor of it and seven against it. Thus, the bill died in the committee.

 

Senators didn’t want to do an end run around the courts.

The Senate Education Committee also didn’t like House Bill 4572, which the House approved on a vote of 96 to nothing. The purpose of the bill was described as providing an exception for “specialized contract instructors” from the definition of teacher. Some people saw it as a means to bypass a case from Monongalia County that is awaiting a decision from the West Virginia Supreme Court.

In the Monongalia County case, Circuit Judge Phillip Gaujot ruled in favor of the American Federation of Teachers, which had sued the school district for contracting with its Regional Education Service Agency (RESA) for academic interventionists to work in classrooms. The judge ruled that interventionists should be considered to be teachers and receive the benefits of teachers. The school district appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

“This bill appears to me to be a way to circumvent the inducements that allow people to go from part-time to becoming fulltime instructors. That’s what I’m trying to guard against.” — Sen. Mike Romano

“This bill appears to me to be a way to circumvent the inducements that allow people to go from part-time to becoming fulltime instructors,” Romano said. “That’s what I’m trying to guard against.”

If the bill could be crafted to limit which positions would receive the exception from the definition of teacher, he said, he would be more comfortable with it. “Otherwise,” Romano said, “I think it’s a back door to get around the hiring and seniority and inducements that bring people into our system that we want to have.”

Lee told the committee that RESAs already can hire audiologists, speech pathologists and computer technology specialists on behalf of school districts.

Romano said, “If that’s the case, it sounds to me like this bill is simply trying to bypass the hiring process that’s in the board of educations.” Lee replied, “It certainly seems to be what they’re trying to do.”

Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, told the committee that Monongalia County has been contracting for interventionists through the RESA for several years.

“This is an anomaly,” she said. “Most counties are hiring these people through the hiring process, be it part-time or fulltime, and…they’re making sure they have the most qualified applicants. They’re making sure that they can accrue seniority and that they can stay and have a leg up when it comes to a fulltime position.”

“This bill has come up to try to make sure that this court case can be decided by the legislature as opposed to the Supreme Court.” — Christine Campbell

Campbell added, “This bill has come up to try to make sure that this court case can be decided by the legislature as opposed to the Supreme Court.”

A.J. Rogers, executive director of the West Virginia Association of School Administrators and a former RESA director, also said that he did not know of any district other than Monongalia County that has gone through a RESA to contract for academic interventionists. However, he added that his organization had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of Monongalia County because of concerns about what a decision against the school district might mean.

“That situation might cause our RESAs not to be able to help any counties with specialized people…maybe even our technology integration specialists that we share throughout a lot of counties,” Rogers said.

Academic interventionists are generally federally funded positions, he said. If a superintendent would employ such a specialized person to work with a high-needs student and then the student moved away, the district would be stuck with that instructor for the rest of the year, he said.

“It may be another good reason to contract that person either through the county or through a RESA,” Rogers said.

Asked for the Education Department’s position on the bill, Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the department, said, “We did not request the bill, but we do not oppose the bill.”

After a long discussion, the committee dropped further consideration of House Bill 4572.

 

Bill to empower school boards interpreted as move to infringe on school personnel laws.

Another bill approved by the House that went to the Senate Education Committee and never came out is House Bill 4706. The House approved it on a vote of 65 to 33.

The purpose of the bill was to require regional county board meetings on empowering and equipping boards to attain goals for public education. The meetings would have been scheduled between August 1 and December 1, 2016 and replace the currently required biennial meetings on shared services. Based on the report on these meetings, the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability would have been expected to consider making recommendations to the legislature for consideration during the 2017 and 2018 regular sessions.

When the House considered the bill, one issue of contention was whether it should specify that the West Virginia School Board Association should handle the meetings. The version the House passed left that role in for the WVSBA. But House Bill 4706 never reached discussion in the Senate.

Howard O’Cull, executive director of the state School Board Association said the “drive for the bill’s essential demise” appeared to have been fueled by a few representatives of school employee organizations who feared the meetings would become a “referendum” on Chapter 18A of the state Code (school personnel statutes) and that, based on this thinking, legislative matters pertaining to school employees should remain within the purview of those groups for interpretation and any resulting recommendations for legislative considerations.   “Of course, you really never know the fullest dimensions of these things,” he added.

He said, “These individuals allegedly channeled this thinking to a few legislators who allegedly were willing to oppose the legislation on that premise. Given the magnitude of other bills facing the Senate Education Committee in particular, including the standards legislation, too much time would have been consumed sorting this out – there was that will, but sometimes the greater good must prevail.”

The WVSBA executive director also said opponents to the legislation “felt compelled to attempt drawing others into the issue, including the state superintendent of schools, and that there appeared to be attempts to make the issue a largely partisan initiative. That was not the case in committee – nor was it our intent as an organization.”

O’Cull said school employee input would have been received as part of the ultimate legislative recommendations. “There was nothing in the bill prohibiting this. In fact, as with the antecedent legislation, we were required to contact various parties before these meetings were  held,” he said.

“I want to thank all the county board members who contacted House members in support of the legislation – and certainly commend legislators who supported the bill,” he said.

O’Cull says the “upshot” is that the measure’s intent can be accomplished through other means than legislation. “That is my immediate post-session task.” 

 

Ethics reform bill went to a quiet death.

The Senate also quietly killed a bill that would have had implications for school districts, although it wasn’t strictly an education bill. House Bill 4607 was designed to be an ethics reform bill. It would have prevented persons convicted of corrupt activity while in public office from collecting their full pensions.

“House Bill 4607 seeks to close potential loopholes and ensure that individuals convicted of corrupt conduct in office are not rewarded with a taxpayer-funded pension for the rest of their life.” — John Shott

“House Bill 4607 seeks to close potential loopholes and ensure that individuals convicted of corrupt conduct in office are not rewarded with a taxpayer-funded pension for the rest of their life,” House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, R-Mercer, said late last month when the House approved the bill on a vote of 84 to zero. .

The Senate received the bill on February 29 and assigned the bill to the Pensions Committee, but that committee held only one meeting after that and did not put the bill on its agenda. Thus, the bill seems to have died for this session.

 

House sidetracks bill to change PEIA.

A bill barely approved by the Senate last week seemed to be close to passage in the House this week, but after being held over for three days, it was removed from the House’s active calendar on Thursday. Senate Bill 622 would have changed the composition of the Public Employees Insurance Agency Finance Board. It would have changed experience requirements for members and reduced the number of members of the board, which oversees health insurance plans for teachers and many other public employees.

On Monday, the House split almost evenly but rejected a proposed amendment that seemed designed to kill the bill. As proposed by Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, and five other Democrats, the amendment would have eliminated the PEIA Finance Board and turned over all of its duties to PEIA’s director.

Sponaugle said that effectively would put decisions about PEIA premium rates back into the hands of the legislature, reversing legislation in 1990 that set up the Finance Board. One of the amendment’s other sponsors, Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said he supported the amendment because he objected to the bill’s elimination of a board member representing organized labor.

“Wow! Another poke in the eye with a sharp stick for working men and women in West Virginia” — Del. Mike Caputo

“Wow!” he said. “Another poke in the eye with a sharp stick for working men and women in West Virginia.”

Delegate Terry Waxman, R-Harrison, opposed the amendment because she didn’t want the legislature to have to make decisions that now go to the Finance Board. “That would again make a health care decision a political decision,” she said. “Health care decisions should never be political decisions. They need to be made by an educated board that’s working in the best interests of their constituents, not by politicians.”

However, House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, objected to the amendment because it would shift power to PEIA’s director. “It empowers the director, not the legislature,” he said. “If the amendment is adopted, it empowers the executive branch, not the people’s house.”

In arguing for his amendment, Sponaugle noted that the reason that Senate Government Organization Chairman Craig Blair gave for changing the composition of the Finance Board was PEIA’s budget shortfall. “If that’s your belief, then why are we just kicking two off?” Sponaugle asked. “Why don’t we just get rid of the whole board?”

The House rejected the amendment with 46 votes in favor of it, 50 against and four members absent. Those voting against it were all Republicans, but several Republicans joined Democrats in voting for the amendment.

When the Senate approved Senate Bill 622 on March 2, all 18 Republicans voted for it and all 16 Democrats voted against it.

For the House to bring the bill back for a vote of the full House, the Rules Committee would have to put it back on the active calendar today or Saturday.

 

Bill affecting SSAC failed to move.

The House also killed a Senate-passed bill in committee this week. Senate Bill 488 would have required rules to be developed by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission to manage hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and to require an emergency action plan at all athletic activities. When the House Education Committee discussed it Tuesday, members expressed concerns about the logistics of what would be required of school officials. They voted to postpone consideration of the bill indefinitely.

Delegate Steve Westfall, R-Jackson, said the issue should be studied more. House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa said he hoped the SSAC would take action on its own without legislation.

 

_______

 

Editor’s Note – Jim Wallace is a former government reporter for theCharleston 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.