Legislative News

Overview

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The Thrasher Group

March 8, 2019 - Volume 39 Issue 9

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Legislature’s 60-day regular session will have a definite ending at midnight Saturday night, but it won’t put an end to the long, bitter battle over pay raises for teachers and school service workers – or for a mixture of education reforms. Those issues will be left to be settled in a special legislative session.

Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday evening he would call the special session after it became apparent the Senate would not take up House Bill 2730, the so-called “clean” pay raise bill, in time for it to pass before the end of the regular session.

“This special session will begin as soon as the current session ends, and the Legislature will recess immediately so they can go out and listen to teachers, parents, community leaders, and all those with a vested interest in making education better in West Virginia.” – Gov. Jim Justice

“This special session will begin as soon as the current session ends, and the Legislature will recess immediately so they can go out and listen to teachers, parents, community leaders, and all those with a vested interest in making education better in West Virginia,” Justice said in his announcement. “When the legislators return to the session, they will be ready to tackle the issues and get it done. There are many education reforms that are worthy of consideration such as reforming the school aid formula to accurately reflect the hardships our smaller counties face and increasing the number of school nurses, counselors, and psychologists. These all deserve adequate time to debate and consider, and a special session with a single focus is the right way to do it.”

The governor made it clear he wants the legislature to help him fulfill the promise he made last October to give teachers, school service workers and other public employees raises of 5 percent in the next fiscal year. The problem has been that Senate Republican leaders have shown no interest in passing House Bill 2730 to simply provide the raises for teachers and school service workers (as well as State Police personnel) after teachers and school service workers went on strike for two days last month and the House of Delegates killed Senate Bill 451, the omnibus education bill. That bill combined the pay raises and reforms many people want, including those mentioned by Justice, with other reforms, such as charter schools and education savings accounts, opposed by many people, including teachers and school service workers.

House leaves room for pay raises.

With the special session looming ahead, the House of Delegates voted 95 to five Thursday evening to approve a version of its budget bill, House Bill 2020, that leaves a hole for the $67 million that would be needed for the 5 percent pay raises for teachers and school service workers. House Finance Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, called it a “show of good faith.”

The House vote came a day after the Senate voted on its own version of House Bill 2020 that did not include the pay raises for teachers and school service personnel and included other provisions carried over from the Senate’s own budget bill, Senate Bill 150, that are not in the House budget bill. When the Senate voted 18 to 14 to approve its version of House Bill 2020, all 14 Democrats voted against it.

“Do we intend to give teachers a pay raise?” Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, asked.

Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, responded, “Keep in mind that we’re considering bills that have passed the Senate and made it through. Senate Bill 451 had a teachers’ pay raise in it. We passed it to the House, and they killed it. The Senate though is not in possession of a pay raise [bill] that has been completed to incorporate into this. If the House bill would have been taken up and passed out by the Senate and then completed legislation, then that would have been factored into this, but that has not [passed].”

“So there is entirely no hope for any teacher pay raise of any percent in this budget?” Prezioso asked.

“Well, I can only tell you in this budget it is not calculated into there,” Blair said. “In the House budget, it is calculated into it because they have passed out a 5 percent pay raise over to us. I think, Senator, my good friend, you know as well as I do that anything is possible all the way to midnight Saturday night.”

“I am sure of nothing when it comes to that. I will not make any commitments.” – Sen. Craig Blair

When Prezioso asked if Blair was sure the pay raise might be worked out in a House-Senate conference committee, Blair said, “I am sure of nothing when it comes to that. I will not make any commitments. I won’t even comment to that. That’s a question, you know, that’s impossible to answer for me at this point in time because it’s [dependent on] what the collective does here. What the House does and what the Senate does is what makes the difference.”

Pressing on, Prezioso asked, “Will your conferees, the leadership of your party, be in agreement that we need to give teachers a raise when we go to conference? Will that be one of their priority items to make sure that in conference there will be a teacher raise?”

Blair replied, “I’m not going to answer that question or make a commitment one way or another to that. As we move through the process, we will address it accordingly.”

It was soon after that when Gov. Justice announced he would call a special session.

Discharge motion failed in Senate.

Earlier on Tuesday, Prezioso moved to discharge House Bill 2730, which includes the pay raises for teachers and school service workers (as well as State Police personnel) from the Senate Education Committee, where the bill had been stuck since coming over from the House.

“Let’s give the teachers the raise they deserve.” – Sen. Roman Prezioso

In speaking for the motion and addressing Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, Prezioso said, “There have been a series of events with you present, the governor and the speaker of the House, before the election, promising the teachers a 5 percent pay raise. Let’s give the teachers the raise they deserve.”

Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, also spoke in favor of discharging the bill from the Education Committee to give the full Senate the chance to work on it. Referring to Gov. Jim Justice’s promise last fall and subsequently to provide the pay raises, Facemire said, “He didn’t promise it with any strings attached or anything like that. We have a responsibility to our citizens that when we tell them something that we do it.”

After debate was cut off, the Senate rejected the discharge motion with 16 senators voting for it and 18 voting against it. Joining all 14 Democrats in supporting the motion were Sens. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, and Dave Sypolt, R-Preston.

Also on Tuesday, Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, released a letter he had sent to Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, urging her to put House Bill 2730 on her committee’s agenda at its next meeting. “I believe it is imperative to address it in our committee immediately to honor the Governor’s and Senate leadership’s promise last October to provide pay increases to all state personnel this session,” he wrote.

Unger also sent a letter to Gov. Justice noting that the governor and Republican legislative leaders announced at a news conference in October their support for raising pay for teachers and school service workers by 5 percent. “Notably absent in that announcement was a requirement for the passage of any other proposed legislation before the pay increases could be implemented,” he wrote. “I urge you to take any action possible to fulfill your promises to the state’s underappreciated teachers, school personnel, state police and workforce, to increase their pay and properly fund their benefits, including the Public Employees Insurance Agency.”

At a news conference Monday, Justice reiterated his support for the 5 percent pay raises and said he would meet with Republicans and Democrats in their caucuses in both the House and the Senate on that issue. He indicated then he would be willing to call a special session of the legislature if the issue is not settled by the end of the regular legislative session Saturday night.

“What I want to do is to try to bring everybody together, if it be a special session or whatever it be and try to make some real progress,” the governor said.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate has made a big change in one of two House-passed bills aimed at addressing Gov. Jim Justice’s promise to take care of the cost of health insurance for public employees, which was one of the major issues in West Virginia’s nine-day, statewide strike by teachers and school service workers in 2018. Both bills would make changes affecting the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

When the Senate Finance Committee took up House Bill 3139 on Thursday, members voted to remove a fee on state agencies that would help fund the $150 million Justice wants to put into a PEIA Rainy Day Fund. The governor’s plan was to use $105 million in surplus revenue from the current fiscal year’s budget and then get the other $45 million from collecting a fee on all the public agencies whose employees are covered by PEIA.

But some senators worried about the effect the fee would have on state colleges and universities, which have suffered budget cutbacks in recent years. The problem is they rely for part of their funding on what is called special revenue, such as tuition, fees and grants, and not just on general revenue from the state. For agencies funded just by general revenue, the legislature can appropriate the money they need to pay the fee. But those with special revenue would have to find other ways to cover the costs of the fee.

The Higher Education Policy Commission has estimated state colleges and universities would have to come up with about $17 million to cover those costs.

“It doesn’t matter whether it is the smaller colleges or the larger colleges,” Carolyn Long, interim chancellor of HEPC said. “This will have an impact on all of them.”

“The cuts of the last few years have really put them right on the edge.” – Carolyn Long

The fee would be even worse if they couldn’t spread it out over three years, as the bill called for, she said. “The cuts of the last few years have really put them right on the edge,” Long said.

Getting the needed funding by raising tuition and fees is not a good option because it could deter some students from attending the colleges and universities, she said. “I think we’re real close to pricing ourselves into a real disaster if we’re not careful about raising tuition and fees,” Long said.

It was after that testimony that Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, proposed amending the bill to remove from the bill all the language that would establish the fee.

“The way this looks like to me is we are giving a very concentrated tax to people that are going to bear a lion’s share of the cost for a benefit that’s borne across people who will never see it,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, supported the amendment. “Essentially what your amendment’s doing is giving time for us to come back and find that revenue source to put into that fund,” he told Tarr.

No senator spoke against the change when it was put up for a voice vote. The committee then voted to approve House Bill 3139 to set up the PEIA Rainy Day Fund without the fee to help put $45 million into the fund. Following that, the committee approved the companion bill, House Bill 2665, would provide a supplemental appropriation of $105 million for the PEIA Rainy Day Fund using money from the current fiscal year’s budget surplus. Thus, the pair of bills would establish the fund and put into it a little more than two-thirds of the funding the governor intended for it.

Both bills were scheduled for the second of three required readings in the Senate today. Unless the Senate would suspend the rule requiring bills to be read on three separate days, that would set those bills up for passage on Saturday, the final day of the legislative session. The Senate and the House of Delegates then would have just hours to work out their differences on the bills if they are to pass during the current legislative session.

The House voted 99 to zero last week to approve House Bill 2665 to set aside surplus funds for the PEIA Rainy Day Fund. The vote in the House on House Bill 3139 to establish the fund and impose the fee was 93 to six.

By Jim Wallace

The legislature has sent House Bill 2009 to Gov. Jim Justice after the Senate agreed Thursday to accept changes made by the House of Delegates.

“This bill creates a new section, a new category, under the Innovation in Education Act for schools interested in undertaking the transition to mastery-based education.” – Sen. Patricia Rucker

“This bill creates a new section, a new category, under the Innovation in Education Act for schools interested in undertaking the transition to mastery-based education,” Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, told her colleagues just before the Senate vote. “The intent is to establish a multi-step process that assists participating schools to develop a broader awareness and understanding of mastery-based education prior to application, assessing the capacity and readiness of schools to proceed.”

The bill would provide schools with several options for implementation or for opting out of the application process. It also would create a network incubator process for continuing the support of schools designated as Innovation in Education mastery-based schools following full application and grant award. But the bill doesn’t have everything most Senate Democrats wanted.

Last week, as the Senate Education Committee considered the bill, the committee first heard from Joanna Burt-Kinderman, math instruction coach for Pocahontas County schools, who suggested the bill’s mastery-based education model might not be the best approach. She has received national attention from Education Week, other publications and the U.S. Department of Education for a different method that has produced extraordinary improvement in middle school and high school math achievement in her district. She didn’t want methods like hers, which depends more on collaboration, to be excluded from Innovation in Education grants.

The committee subsequently adopted an amendment from Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, to add wording to the bill to possibly include programs like that Burt-Kinderman described. That was after one of the bill’s sponsors, House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, spoke to the committee and agreed to accept Baldwin’s amendment. With that change in the bill, the Senate voted 34 to zero to approve House Bill 2009 and send it back to the House of Delegates.

But the House refused to accept the Senate’s change, stripped it out of the bill and sent the bill back to the Senate. When Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, proposed Thursday the Senate should back down and accept the House version of the bill, Baldwin wanted to know what had happened, especially considering that Espinosa had accepted the Senate’s change.

Rucker said members of the House did not understand Baldwin’s amendment and thought it was unnecessary. But Baldwin protested.

“We worked this out in committee,” he said. “We even worked it out with a House sponsor. We had an agreement. I urge that we stick to our position.”

The Senate did not stick to its position. Members voted 21 to 12 to approve the House version of House Bill 2009 and send it to Gov. Jim Justice for his approval. Baldwin and most of the other Senate Democrats voted against it.

By Jim Wallace

In their second year of trying, Senate leaders – especially Senate President Mitch Carmichael – succeeded in getting the legislature to approve a bill to help many West Virginians get two-year college educations at little or no cost, as well as to promote partnerships between public secondary schools and community and technical colleges.

Carmichael, R-Jackson, seemed to have glee in his voice Thursday as he announced passage of Senate Bill 1 on a vote of 33 to zero after the Senate accepted changes the House of Delegates had made. Last year, the Senate passed a similar bill, but it stalled in the House. Carmichael was not the only senator excited about the passage of Senate Bill 1 Thursday.

“This is a wonderful day from my perspective,” Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, told his colleagues. “Most of the people here are college graduates. I am not. But this is going to put us on the path forward for people like myself to succeed in the state of West Virginia and help us succeed. When I say help us succeed, it’s about getting businesses to expand and locate here in the state of West Virginia. It’s going to help with drug addictions and all the other addictions there is out there by giving people in an earlier stage of life and even in the later stages the opportunity to get their life back and have gainful employment, which trickles down into their families as well.”

Blair said one factor businesses look at when they consider locating in a state is the number of associate degrees per capita. The bill should remove a financial barrier that prevents some people from pursuing associate degrees, he said, predicting the state will see a transformation in just three to four years. The importance of the bill is why it was designated Senate Bill 1, he said.

“It’s one of the best pieces of legislation that I’ve seen in a long, long time.” – Sen. Craig Blair

“We are now crossing the finish line,” Blair said. “It’s one of the best pieces of legislation that I’ve seen in a long, long time.”

Although the House approved the bill, the vote for it was not unanimous as the Senate vote was. The House voted 85 to 13 to approve Senate Bill 1 on Wednesday after going through an extensive debate over it on Tuesday.

The bill’s main purpose has been to eliminate the cost of tuition as a hurdle for high school graduates to pursue higher education at West Virginia’s two-year community and technical colleges. It would provide what’s called “last-dollar-in” funding that would pay tuition costs not already covered by scholarships or grants or other funding.

The bill would affect public education because it also calls for the creation of advanced career education (ACE) programs through partnerships between public secondary schools and community and technical colleges. One purpose of the bill is to establish “clear and efficient pathways that begin in high school and lead to obtaining advanced certifications and associate degrees.” The idea is to increase the number of students who ultimately obtain post-secondary credentials or degrees.

To cover tuition costs, Senate Bill 1 would create the WV Invests Grants program. It would require the Department of Commerce to develop a priority list of skilled professions that are in high demand with positions that are hard to fill. Students who would seek associate degrees or career certificates at higher education institutions in programs that would qualify them for such positions could apply for the state grants to cover costs not already covered by scholarships, federal aid or any other financial assistance.

House made notable changes.

Initially, only programs at community and technical colleges would have qualified, but the House amended the bill to allow associate degree programs at several four-year colleges and universities to qualify as well. The four-year institutions that offer such associate degrees include Fairmont State University, Glenville State College, Bluefield State College, West Liberty University and Marshall University. The fiscal note for the bill estimates it would cost about $9.9 million in the form passed by the House.

During debate on Tuesday, the House defeated a series of other amendments that generally would have broadened the bill’s scope further.

One amendment proposed by Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, would have allowed the grant program to fund students at all the state colleges and universities and at accredited, private, not-for-profit institutions. That would have increased the bill’s estimated cost to $26 million. That amendment failed with 46 delegates voting for it and 56 voting against it.

A similar amendment proposed by Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, would have changed the PROMISE scholarship program to the Promise for All Scholarship program. The scholarships would have been for all West Virginia residents enrolled at state institutions as long as they would maintain at least a 2.0 grade-point average. The program would have provided such a student up to $10,000 each year for up to four years for an undergraduate degree and up to two years for an associate degree. That was estimated to cost the state about $50 million. The House voted 40 to 59 to reject that amendment.

Another amendment proposed by Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, would have allowed programs at private four-year institutions to participate. That was estimated to cost in the range of $20 million to $25 million. The House defeated it on a vote of 42 to 54.

An outspoken opponent of the bill, Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, failed in three attempts to amend the bill. He came out against the bill soon after it was introduced with Senate President Mitch Carmichael as the lead sponsor. Butler has announced he plans to run for Carmichael’s Senate seat in 2020.

One of Butler’s amendments would have eliminated all state funding for the grant program. The House rejected it on a vote of 14 to 81. Another amendment to require a means test for the grant funding failed on a vote of 27 to 69. Butler’s third amendment to tie tuition increases to the federal Consumer Price Index failed on a vote of 36 to 61.

One amendment the House approved would encourage community and technical colleges to enter into collaborative agreements with federally assisted apprenticeship programs and require a report on how those agreements go. Delegate Phil Diserio, D-Brooke, proposed that amendment, which the House approved on a vote of 54 to 44.

It’s now up to Gov. Jim Justice to decide whether Senate Bill 1 should become law.

By Jim Wallace

The House was set to vote today on Senate Bill 632, which would require video cameras to be placed in special needs classrooms. A recent incident at Berkeley Heights Elementary School in Berkeley County in which two aides allegedly abused a student with disabilities spurred interest in the bill, although the lead sponsor has said he was working on it before news broke about that incident.

Although the bill was nearing potential passage in the House today, it had to get through much discussion and a few amendments when it was before the House Education Committee early this week.

The bill would require:

  • County school boards to conduct an annual assessment on safety measures and make safety upgrades, when needed.
  • County school boards to report to the state school board, which then would have to compile a single report to present to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.
  • The state to create a special revenue account to be used for enhanced safety measures.
  • Video cameras to be installed in self-contained classrooms, which are defined as classrooms that offer predominantly special education instruction.
  • Cameras to be able to monitor all areas of the classrooms and be audio ready.

The bill specifically would provide that no cameras could be used in bathroom areas or areas where students might change clothing. Cameras would not be in operation when students are not present. Notice of the cameras would have to be given in writing to parents, county school boards and school employees who might work in the self-contained classrooms.

The bill would provide for requirements for retaining video recordings, such as during pending investigations or administrative or legal proceedings. The videos could not be used for teacher evaluations or other purposes not promoting the general well-being of students. Parents would be allowed to view videos pursuant to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which pertains to the students’ school records.

Cost was an issue.

One of the concerns expressed in the House Education Committee was about the cost of the bill. The Department of Education estimated that it would cost $7,043,400 to put the cameras in schools that would need them across the state. County school boards could get funding for that from the Safe Schools Fund the bill would establish as long as the legislature would put money into that fund.

The Education Department conducted a survey that determined 2,717 classrooms across the state would meet the bill’s definition of “self-contained classroom,” and only eight of them already have camera systems. The department estimated the cost of installing the specified camera systems would be about $2,600 per classroom but would vary from classroom to classroom. That would include two cameras, a recording device, data storage, a workstation, software and miscellaneous installation costs.

“One of the biggest costs on companies that have these security systems is the storage of the data,” Delegate Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, said. Noting that he pays $100 a year for storage on just one device, he estimated the bill could create storage costs of perhaps $10 million. House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, suggested that school systems might be able to get data storage at a lower rate. Vice-Chairman Mark Dean, R-Mingo, said the elementary-middle school he serves as principal has 16 cameras that can record for a month, but they have no audio.

“Are we not just throwing the door open that a school district, if it wanted to, could do darn near anything and claim that it’s under the cover of school security?” – Delegate John Doyle

Delegate John Doyle, R-Jefferson, asked, “Are we not just throwing the door open that a school district, if it wanted to, could do darn near anything and claim that it’s under the cover of school security?”

Dave Mohr, senior legislative analyst for the committee, agree that each school board would have much leeway.

Delegate Robert Thompson, D-Wayne, had another concern. “Isn’t special ed. one of our hardest areas to recruit teachers in?” he asked.

“It is,” Mohr said. “It’s an area of shortage. It’s been an area of shortage for some time.”

Thompson then asked, “Do you think it would hurt our efforts in recruiting if the teachers are going into the classroom, into a profession, knowing they’ll be taped all day long?”

Mohr suggested that would depend on the person.

Then Thompson said, “I just have problems with limiting it just to special ed.”

When it was suggested the bill should be amended to prohibit using the equipment for continual monitoring, Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the Department of Education, said the federal Family Education Rights Privacy Act already governs that, and the state school board has a policy that mirrors FERPA’s provisions. She also said parents would not have unfettered rights to view security camera videos.

But she added, “This is some relatively new territory.” Only two states have similar provisions, she said, and one of them is Texas, where cameras are put in special education classrooms only on request.

Hutchins said, if the bill would become law, the West Virginia Department of Education would work with the U.S. Department of Education’s Family Policy Compliance Office, which oversees FERPA, to help with rulemaking.

“I’ve been contacted by several special ed. teachers who have grave concerns about this bill. One of them is a middle school teacher who had a student come after another student with a pencil. She had to literally restrain him and take him to the ground because she was fearful that he was going to hurt the other student.” – Delegate Lisa Zukoff

Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, said, “I’ve been contacted by several special ed. teachers who have grave concerns about this bill. One of them is a middle school teacher who had a student come after another student with a pencil. She had to literally restrain him and take him to the ground because she was fearful that he was going to hurt the other student.”

Hutchins told her, “There are only certain incidents that can be viewed. One of the individuals that can view the recording is an employee charged with an investigation. It would be my opinion that, if there is a restraint issue and there’s an investigation, that someone viewing the video would need to be trained and understand how restraint occurs and be familiar with the practice of that in the classroom so that there is an understanding.”

When Doyle what would happen if the legislature would not come up with money to do fund the bill’s requirements, Hutchins said, “I don’t think that there is any provision in the bill that would say we could not install the classrooms if we don’t get the money. I think it’s a mandate, and we’re going to have to do it regardless of funding.”

“Oh!” Doyle said with surprise, “That is not what I understood before.”

The committee then adopted an amendment that would make the bill’s requirements contingent on funds appropriated by the legislature.

Committee remained divided over the bill.

But an amendment from Doyle to restrict the leeway the bill would give to local school officials did not fare as well.

“I came in here eager to support this bill because of a very recent incident in Berkeley County right next door to me back home,” he said. “I’ve gotten all kinds of communications about that. There’s a serious problem, and clearly, the provisions of this bill, had they been law, might have helped prevent that. But leaving the decision open to almost anything, which is what this language does, to me is very, very dangerous. There are 55 county school boards, 55 superintendents, and I don’t know how many principals. Every now and then, somebody makes a decision that later they say, ‘Gee, I shouldn’t have made that decision.’”

The committee rejected Doyle’s amendment.

In the end, most of the committee members were comfortable with the provisions of Senate Bill 632.

“I think this protects the teacher as much as the student.” – Delegate Steve Westfall

“I think this protects the teacher as much as the student,” Delegate Steve Westfall, R-Jackson, said.

Delegate Caleb Hanna, R-Webster, said his constituents like the bill. “We have to protect our students,” he said. “In my opinion, when you choose between protecting students and recruiting teachers, we have to put our students first.”

Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, said, “It seems like it may have been knee-jerk legislation because it came out at the very time Berkeley County was experiencing their issues. But I was a special education teacher for about half of my teaching career, and there were days a camera would not have helped me a bit. But let me tell you something: There was a lot of days that that camera – I wish it had been there.”

Cooper said special education teachers often get kicked and hit, and they are human beings who can snap at some point from all the abuse. He suggested that some teachers might see cameras in their classrooms as tools that would be on their side.

The Senate approved the Senate Bill 632 on February 27 on a vote of 31 to three. The three senators who voted against it were: Bob Beach, D-Monongalia; Ron Stollings, D-Boone; and Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha.

By Jim Wallace

A bill to change some of the rules used by the School Building Authority has completed the legislative process. The House of Delegates approved Senate Bill 672 on a vote of 85 to 15 Thursday. The Senate voted 33 to one to approve it last week.

The rule changes would affect requirements governing the Comprehensive Educational Facility Plan, funding of School Building Authority projects, SBA school planning and design criteria, SBA project administration and review, SBA contracts and agreements, SBA reporting procedures, and the School Access Safety Act.

Before the House voted, House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, said the bill would ratify rule changes approved February 19 by the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability. He said some of the changes are to reflect industry standards and make them compliant with state school board policy. But not every legislator was happy with the changes.

“As a large opponent of consolidated schools, I cannot in good conscience vote for this bill.” – Delegate Caleb Hanna

“I voted against this bill in committee, and I plan to do so again today,” Delegate Caleb Hanna, R-Webster, said just before the House voted. “During the Education Committee [meeting], we had an executive staff member from the SBA come up and field questions. I asked him if these rules would make it easier to combine schools and create a comprehensive educational facility. The response I received was that it would definitely enhance the process to do so. As a large opponent of consolidated schools, I cannot in good conscience vote for this bill.”

Senate Bill 672 now goes to Gov. Jim Justice for action.

 

By Jim Wallace

School districts that want to use the ACT instead of the SAT to test all students in 11th grade would be able to do so under provisions of Senate Bill 624 as amended by the House of Delegates this week.

As it passed in the Senate, districts would be able to use the ACT instead of the SAT, but they would have had to bear the extra costs. But the House changed the bill Monday to have the state bear those costs, although the House amendment also provided that the ACT’s cost per student could be no higher than that of the SAT for test delivery and administration. The bill would change an arrangement in which the SAT has been administered to juniors in West Virginia high schools since it was chosen over the ACT in a public bidding process.

That didn’t sit well with Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, who said he had been leaning toward voting for the bill before it was amended.

“The College Board, which sponsors the SAT, got the bid fair and square,” he said. “Now comes the ACT trying to get in by what I believe to be the back door, and I just don’t think that’s right. But if they’re going to do it, at least we should have them pay for the expense of putting their test before our county boards of education. The original version of the bill had them pay for it. Yesterday, we said the state’s going to pay for it, and I just don’t think that’s right.”

Speaking in favor of the bill, Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, asked rhetorically, “How about a little bit of freedom?” Likewise, Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, said he favored the bill because it would give county school boards more freedom.

“SAT knew that we had the ability to with 30 days’ notice completely end the agreement,” he said. “We’re not fully breaking the contract. We’re not even partially breaking the contract. We’re just providing a little more freedom to our counties.”

Some delegates prefer the ACT because of the way it tests science knowledge. “ACT has a science component of the test,” House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, said. “SAT does not. SAT kind of incorporates science within the questions of the other fields within its tests.” He added, “If you wanted to take a specific test on science, the ACT would be that test.”

The House voted 86 to 14 to approve the bill. It’s now up to the Senate to decide whether to accept the changes the House made or to send the bill to a conference committee to work out the differences.

By Jim Wallace

A bill to increase the penalties for passing stopped school buses and provide for the installation of forward-facing cameras on new school buses to aid in enforcement has cleared both houses of the West Virginia Legislature.

“This bill concerns the crime of overtaking a stopped school bus,” House Judiciary Vice-Chairman Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, told his colleagues just before the House voted to approve Senate Bill 238 Thursday. “Of course, doing so poses a serious risk to school children embarking and disembarking on the bus, as we can all imagine.”

The bill would require all school buses acquired after July 1 this year to be equipped with both forward-facing and rear-facing cameras. That is projected to cost about $3,500 on each new bus.

The bill also would increase the fines associated with passing a stopped school bus and the period for which a motorist’s license could be suspended for a violation.

“It’s long overdue and well needed, so let’s support this thing and vote it up.” – Delegate Tony Paynter

Delegate Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming, introduced a similar bill but supported the bill passed by the Senate. “It’s long overdue and well needed, so let’s support this thing and vote it up,” he said.

The House approved the bill on a vote of 90 to one with only Delegate Patrick McGeehan, R-Hancock, voting against it. The senate approved it 34 to zero on February 25. The bill now goes to the governor.

 

By Jim Wallace

The Senate was prepared to vote today on a bill to get schools and other state-funded institutions to use more West Virginia agricultural products. If the Senate would pass the House Bill 2396, it would go back to the House of Delegates to consider minor changes made by the Senate.

House Bill 2396, called the West Virginia Fresh Food Act, would require all state-funded institutions to purchase a minimum of 5 percent of fresh produce, meat and poultry products from in-state producers, provided that those products are available from in-state producers at costs no more than the costs of such products from out-of-state producers. It originally called for a minimum of 20 percent, but the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee changed it to 5 percent.

The House voted 98 to one to approve the bill with only Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, voting against it.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate seemed poised today to pass a bill that would give school districts more freedom to decide when to observe Celebrate Freedom Week. House Bill 2422 was set for its third and final reading today in the Senate. Passage would send it to Gov. Jim Justice.

Under current law, schools are expected to observe “Celebrate Freedom Week” during the week when September 11 falls. The observance is to include instruction on such founding documents as the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. When the House Education Committee considered the bill, it added the Emancipation Declaration to that list of documents.

Federal law requires the teaching of the same documents at a different time of year, so the bill would prevent requiring schools to go over the same material twice in the school year. Also, some school districts had complained that the week of September 11 comes too early in the school year and would prefer putting it off later, such as during the week of Veterans Day in November.

The House approved the bill on a vote of 98 to zero on January 24.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate was scheduled to vote today on a pair of bills designed to help county school districts get rid of employees convicted of certain offenses.

The first bill, House Bill 2378, would permit revoking the teaching certificate of anyone convicted of any offense that would require registration as a sex offender or any offense involving the distribution of a controlled substance. The second bill, House Bill 2662, would do the same for school service personnel and school bus drivers. For a school service worker, such a conviction would result in the automatic termination of the employee’s contract. For a school bus driver, it would result in revocation of the person’s school bus operator certificate.

The Senate changed the bills to include automatic revocations upon findings of abuse by the Department of Health and Human Resources. If the Senate would approve the bills with those changes, they would have to return to the House of Delegates for consideration of the changes.

The House approved both bills February 26 on votes of 99 to zero.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate was scheduled to vote today on a vocational education bill the House of Delegates passed more than a month ago.

House Bill 2004 is intended to provide better communication with students and parents on career and technical education programs that begin in high school and lead to industry- recognized credentials, certificates of applied science and associate degrees in high-demand, high-wage occupations in West Virginia.

The bill would require the state school board to adopt “a program of instruction in general workforce and career preparedness for all students.” That program would have to include guidelines for schools to work through their local school improvement councils and business partners to let students know what common skills and attributes companies seek in prospective employees.

The House voted 95 to one to approve the bill on February 5 with only Delegate Patrick McGeehan, R-Hancock, voting against it.

Senate approval of the bill would send it back to the House for concurrence in two changes the Senate made in the bill, but Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, indicated Thursday that should not be a problem because members of the House suggested one of those changes.

By Jim Wallace

If the Senate would get its way on a House-passed bill, all school personnel would be required to get active shooter training and first aid training.

The Senate amended House Bill 2541 Thursday so it would have that effect. As the House passed the bill, it called for teachers and students to receive active shooter training and first aid training but said nothing about such training for other school employees. For the bill to pass the legislature and go to Gov. Jim Justice for his signature, the House and Senate would have to resolve their differences on it by midnight Saturday night, when the current 60-day legislative session will end. The Senate was scheduled to vote on its version of the bill today.

The bill also calls for putting room numbers on exterior walls or windows of school buildings to help law enforcement in identifying them and for updating schools’ floor plans each year and providing copies of those plans to law enforcement and first responders.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates was scheduled to vote today on Senate Bill 605 to address the issue of head injuries in school sports. It would permit the West Virginia Secondary School Athletics Commission to discipline schools that do not follow either the requirements of their emergency action plans for athletics or the required protocol on concussions and head injuries regarding interscholastic athletes.

The bill also would add licensed physical therapists and licensed or registered physical trainers to the health care professionals among those who may provide return-to-play clearances for student athletes under the concussion protocols.

When the bill was before the House Education Committee this week, Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, said it’s not easy for some schools to find professionals who can serve in that role.

“I was a trainer for about 18 years on a football field,” he said. “I can tell you that every school does not have a medical professional on the sideline. A lot of times, they’re lucky to have an LPN serve as the athletic trainer or maybe even an ambulance person.”

Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, proposed an amendment to remove licensed physical therapists from the bill, but Evans spoke against making that change.

“Even an English teacher can be trained in the concussion protocols,” he said. “It’s not a huge deal. The training is very minimal. I would feel better having any medical professional on the field.”

Evans added, “I don’t know how many times our team was not able to practice because they didn’t have a trainer on the field.”

After that, Zukoff withdrew her amendment.

The Senate voted 34 to zero to approve the bill on February 27.

By Jim Wallace

The legislature has approved Senate Bill 154, the Specialist Nicholas Caleb Jividen Act, to permit public schools to be used for certain funerals and memorial services.

The bill is named for a graduate of Poca High School and a member of the Seventh Special Forces who died November 6, 2018, as a result of injuries sustained in armored vehicle training at Fort Irwin in California. Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, introduced the bill because the school district did not allow Jividen’s funeral to be at the local school.

The bill would allow county school boards to establish policies to let schools be used for funerals and memorials services for community members of distinction, such as members of the military and veterans who served honorably, as well as first responders. School boards would not be allowed to bear any additional costs as a result of holding funerals or memorial services. The bill also would prohibit such services from disrupting classroom instruction or other school activities.

The Senate passed the bill on a vote of 34 to zero, and the House voted 100 to zero to approve it. It now goes to Gov. Jim Justice to decide whether to sign it into law.

By Jim Wallace

House Bill 2835 on open education resources has gone to Gov. Jim Justice after receiving approval from the Senate on Thursday. The bill would establish a program under the West Virginia Library Commission to encourage and facilitate the use of open education resource materials in both higher education and public schools.

The Senate voted 33 to zero to approve the bill, which the House previously approved on a vote of 99 to zero.

Affected by the bill are digital or analog resources in any medium that are in the public domain or have been released under open license that permits low-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with limited or no restrictions.

The Library Commission would be required to consult with higher education and public education officials to figure out who currently is using open resource materials and determine how to make greater use of such materials.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates was scheduled to vote today on whether to pass a bill to promote education in agriculture at West Virginia high schools.

If Senate Bill 329 would become law, its provisions would take effect in the 2020-2021 school year. The bill would encourage school districts and multi-county vocational centers to make available agricultural programs to high school students. That would include, but not be limited to, programs that would allow for support and establishment of local Future Farmers of America chapters. If school districts would request it, the Department of Education would be required to assist in establishing agricultural programs available to high school students in the districts.

The bill also would provide that, if funding is the primary reason for not establishing such programs, the department would be required to report that to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.

Senate approved the Senate Bill 329 on a vote of 34 to zero on February 26.

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.