Legislative News

Overview

Inside

 
 

AgendaLite: Agenda Management Solution

April 7, 2017 - Volume 37 Issue 10

The West Virginia School Board Association (WVSBA) will conduct a videoconference regarding regional education service cooperatives – successor entities to Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) as included in House Bill 2711, Gov. Jim Justice’s public education reform bill.A House Concurrent Resolution regarding a study of  “…the possibility of reducing the number of county boards of education in the state along with other educational reorganization…” also will be discussed. That Resolution, House Concurrent Resolution 31, was adopted by the House of Delegates today. View HCR 31.

The conference call will be held Monday, April 17, 2017, beginning at 1:30 p.m. Videoconference details will be forwarded next week, including sites and other particulars.

WVSBA Executive Director Howard M. O’Cull, Ed.D.,said each county board president or designee is invited to participate.

O’Cull said logistics essentially limit participants to one member per county board.

He also is asking Nick Zervos, RESA 6 Executive Director, and other interested RESA executive directors to participate along with A. J. Rogers who is West Virginia Association of School Administrators (WVASA) Executive Director.

Additionally, O’Cull is inviting the State Superintendent of Schools and/or a representative to attend. Others having been involved in drafting or passage of the legislation also will be invited.

Additional details regarding the videoconference will be forwarded to county board presidents next week.

Under terms of HCR 31 the state Board of Education is called upon to assist in the study of possibly “reducing” the number of county boards. 

As in past years the WVSBA staff will provide members who contact association offices with a listing of legislation adopted during the West Virginia Legislature’s 2017 regular session, including electronic links to each proposal adopted.

For this listing, which will be available Monday (April 10), please contact O’Cull. 

WVSBA’s post-session workshop will be held Saturday, June 10. Although the site has not been determined, the conference likely will be held in the Clarksburg area.

O’Cull’s contact information is hocull@wvsba.org or telephone 304-346-0571 or 304-549-9463 

By Jim Wallace

A big bill that would eliminate Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) and the Office of Education Performance Audits (OEPA), and relax the requirement for schools to have 180 separate days of instruction, as well as make other major changes, came close to death this week. But the Senate Education Committee revived it early Thursday, and it is on track for possible passage on Saturday.

House Bill 2711 began as legislation recommended by Gov. Jim Justice, but it has gone through many changes as it made its way through the House of Delegates and then the Senate. One element that legislators stripped out of it is the governor’s proposal to give pay raises of $808 to each teacher. But with modifications, they retained provisions to eliminate RESAs and OEPA.

Among the changes made by legislators is a requirement for the state school board to receive approval from the legislature if it would try to change academic standards. The bill seemed to get derailed as the Senate Education Committee discussed that provision on Wednesday. Committee Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, called for a 10-minute recess for majority Republicans to caucus. When they returned about 20 minutes later, Mann quickly pulled the bill off of the agenda and then the committee adjourned for the day. But Mann called for another meeting for 8:00 a.m. Thursday. After a long discussion and testimony from several people, the committee approved the bill and sent it to the full Senate, which later gave it the first of three required readings.

That set it up for possible passage in the Senate on Saturday – or today, if the Senate would suspend the rule for the bill to be read on three separate days. But because the Senate changed the bill, the House would have to agree to those changes or the two houses would have to compromise on their differences for the bill to go to the governor for his signature.

Certain senators’ opposition to Common Core academic standards and assessments associated with Common Core loomed large in deliberations over the bill on Wednesday and Thursday. That was even though the state school board already has moved away from Common Core standards and plans to quit using the Common Core-associated Smarter Balanced assessments after this spring.

On Wednesday, Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, attempted to amend a provision in the bill that would prohibit the state school board from adopting new standards or assessments tied to federal funding without getting the approval of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability. That is a panel made up of members of both the Senate and the House, and it can meet at any time of the year. But Karnes wanted instead to prohibit any changes in standards or assessments tied to federal funding “except as authorized by an act of the legislature.” Because the full legislature meets only during a 60-day regular session each year and occasional special session, that would have made it much more difficult for the state school board to make changes in standards or assessments.

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, asked, “Aren’t we putting more of the micromanagement of the school system, which I personally think is a bad move, in the hands of the legislature, which moves like molasses and often doesn’t move in good directions?”

"Common Core was adopted with very little public input, very little oversight by anybody. It was adopted essentially by a memorandum almost entirely, and we can see what a disaster Common Core has been for our state, and so I think it’s appropriate that the legislature sound off on any adoption, particularly when it’s tied to federal funding, as Common Core was.” – Sen. Robert Karnes

Karnes responded, “Common Core was adopted with very little public input, very little oversight by anybody. It was adopted essentially by a memorandum almost entirely, and we can see what a disaster Common Core has been for our state, and so I think it’s appropriate that the legislature sound off on any adoption, particularly when it’s tied to federal funding, as Common Core was. So when the federal government is trying to get the state of West Virginia to adopt a standard, I think it’s incumbent upon us as the sovereign body of the state of West Virginia to sound off on that effort.”

“You know, Senator, that’s been going on for 50 years,” Romano said. “Until your party became the majority, that was never an issue because nobody ever became obsessed with a set of standards the way that your party has.” Accusing Republicans of trying to “micromanage our education system into the ground,” he added, “We’re going to commit the school board to having to wait until we have an actual legislative session in order to be able to make a decision that may be necessary and prudent and part of educating our children.”

Karnes replied, “We’re not talking about the state board of education acting in its normal daily duties. We’re talking about turning the entire curriculum set of standards upside down, adopting brand-new standards from scratch.” He said teachers and parents have complained about frequent changes in standards, but Romano said legislators are responsible for that.

However, Karnes was undeterred. “What you’re saying though is that it’s a bad thing that [the state school board] might have to wait six or eight months for us to be back in session. I think that’s a good thing that it’s more slow, more deliberative, more thought is given to it, and it’s not done in a half-cocked fashion, as Common Core was adopted.”

But Romano responded that Common Core changed the state’s standards by only about 18 percent. The Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability would be able to keep track of what is happening, he said, and if something bad would happen, the legislature could have a special session to deal with it.

“What you’re doing is the opposite,” Romano said. “You’re going to force us into either special session or regular session in order to approve that move.”

When Steve Paine, who recently took over as the state superintendent of schools, was asked about what Karnes had proposed, he said, “Our position is it conflicts with the constitutional authority clearly of the state board of education.”

"The issue of approving standards is an issue the Constitution of West Virginia has reserved to the West Virginia Board of Education and that the legislature having to approve those standards by act of the legislature squarely conflicts with the constitutional provisions that have been in effect for a number of years.” – Heather Hutchins

Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the Department of Education, agreed. “The issue of approving standards is an issue the Constitution of West Virginia has reserved to the West Virginia Board of Education and that the legislature having to approve those standards by act of the legislature squarely conflicts with the constitutional provisions that have been in effect for a number of years,” she said. West Virginia Supreme Court cases have held that it is the state board’s responsibility to have general supervision over the schools, which includes specifically the process of adopting standards, she added.

Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, saw the issue the same way. “Surely, this is in violation of the Constitution of West Virginia,” he said.

Hutchins responded, “I do believe that if the legislature determined that the legislature would have to act to approve standards that that would be fraught with a number of practical difficulties, even apart from the constitutional infirmities.” One of the problems she cited was that the legislature is in regular session only 60 days a year. She said another problem would be that legislative leadership changes from election to election. “And standards could change then every time the legislature meets,” she said.

By contrast, Hutchins said, state board members are appointed for nine-year terms. “The point of that is so that there is stability and consistency and that there isn’t specifically change that may be dictated by the politics of elections,” she said.

It was at that point that Mann called the recess and then took the bill off the committee’s agenda.

The bill returned from the dead.

But House Bill 2711 was back on the agenda by Thursday morning, when committee members peppered Paine, Hutchins and others with questions about the bill. Much of the discussion again focused on the Common Core.

One staunch opponent of Common Core, Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, asked Paine if he was concerned about language in the bill prohibiting the state board from implementing Common Core academic standards. Despite what he said one day earlier, Paine said he wasn’t concerned about that.

“We’re fine with that, and we’re beyond Common Core,” he said. “We have a new set of standards, as you all know now, that have been vetted by hundreds and hundreds and thousands and thousands of people and teachers.”

The current West Virginia College- and Career-Readiness Standards were created after the Department of Education gathered more than 250,000 comments, of which 85 percent were from teachers. “They were incorporated into the standards we have now, so the Common Core days are over,” Paine said. He then pledged the state board would collaborate with the legislature on changes in standards in the future.

"People have an unhealthy obsession with Common Core in this legislature.” – Sen. Mike Romano

At that point, Romano commented, “People have an unhealthy obsession with Common Core in this legislature.” He said it reminded him of how some people in the 1950s have an obsession with rooting out communists.

Clayton Burch, the Education Department’s chief academic officer, later address the confusion between standards and curriculum that many critics of Common Core have. He said many West Virginia educators did not buy into the argument that there is a Common Core curriculum. “There is no such thing,” he said. “It does not exist. People have put that tab on things.”

In particular, Burch complimented teachers in Ohio County and Pocahontas County for choosing curricula that have resulted in significant improvement in student achievement.

Bill would lead to elimination of RESAs.

Beyond the issue of whether the legislature should play a role in approving standards and assessments, a few senators expressed concerns about other changes House Bill 2711 would make. For Romano, the main concern was about eliminating RESAs, which write for grants that help their school districts.

Paine said, “The RESAs provide valuable services, especially to some of the small counties. Our challenge would be to make sure that we continue to provide that service in the transition year and thereafter.” However, he said, the educational cooperatives that the bill would let school districts form among themselves would provide opportunity to grow the concept of RESAs. But he added that structuring the new cooperatives would be a challenge. That did not allay Romano’s concerns.

“The big counties are not going to take care of the little counties,” he said. “The big counties are not going to administer these grants without some money or new personnel for these other counties. And that’s a real concern to me that we’re going to wake up in 2019, and the state’s struggling to be able to pay its bills, and find out we’ve lost $10 million in grants.”

Paine replied, “I think your concerns are valid, and I think you bring about good points. I just can’t say to you with certainty what the future holds.”

"The problem that we have is keeping high-quality people in the transitional period.” – Nick Zervos

Although Gov. Justice’s original version of the bill would have eliminated RESAs by July 1, legislators have changed it to get RESAs one more year to phase out their operations. Nick Zervos, executive director of RESA 6, told the committee, said how that transition would be handled would be critical. “The problem that we have is keeping high-quality people in the transitional period,” he said, adding that many RESA employees have been there for 26 to 30 years and are experts in their fields. He added that he would not want to see any county left behind in the process.

Joey Garcia, senior counsel for legislation and policy for Gov. Justice, told the senators that the governor’s office has been in discussions with the state superintendent to figure out funding for RESAs during the transition and how to handle RESA property issues.

Loss of OEPA concerns senator.

Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, expressed concern about getting rid of OEPA, which audits schools and school districts on how well they meet state requirements. “I am concerned that we will not get what we need on the county visits,” he said.

Paine responded, “I think in this time of limited resources, and based on the way the bill was presented, there’s a whole lot that can be done through data collection, predictive analytics.” He said such data analysis could be used to identify districts that need further support.

“To tell you that we have a solution at this point identified is not true,” Paine said. “We don’t have one at this point. If the bill passes, we would work with the current OEPA personnel, with the state board and with educators to determine a process.”

Plymale said he would still want to have an organization like OEPA that would not come under the authority of the state superintendent. Paine agreed with him on that.

WVSBA leader explained background of bill.

Before House Bill 2711 underwent its presumed death and renewed life changes on Wednesday and Thursday, the Senate Education Committee heard earlier in the week from

Howard O’Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association, on how some of the ideas in the bill came about.

In 2013, the legislature empowered the WVSBA to work with the state board and the RESAs to conduct a series of meetings with county boards and superintendents, and those meetings were held in 2013, 2014 and 2016, he explained. Many of the ideas in the bill came from those meetings, he said. There is a desire among the county school districts to work together to meet various needs caused by declining enrollment and declining resources, he said, and districts can work together without going through RESAs.

"This bill does cause one to really wonder a lot about the application here, how this will be put into process, how this will actually come into being, and how the cooperatives will or will not work.” – Howard O’Cull

“This bill does cause one to really wonder a lot about the application here, how this will be put into process, how this will actually come into being, and how the cooperatives will or will not work,” O’Cull said. “There is a year’s time to get this done, and of course, work expands to the amount of time to get it done.  So I think time is not the issue. The issue here, I think, for school boards is: Will these cooperatives be framed in such a way they meet the county board needs, and will the county boards be incentivized enough to really reach out and accept those needs?”

All kinds of services could be done at the regional level, but getting it done is the issue, he said. After reading through the bill several times, O’Cull said, he came to the realization that the current RESA structures would not necessarily have to be eradicated. Instead, could become the means for counties to receive various shared services after July 1, 2018, he said.

The regional meetings the WVSBA held were required to look at the sharing of central office administrators. “Well, folks, we’re talking about 609 people in 55 counties,” O’Cull said. “So this concept always was on the surface here: What can we do beyond those 609 people? And what came out of that was some ideas very similar to this: to be able to have county boards themselves work at the local level to join cooperatives to find ways to meet discreet needs that they have.”

RESAs already provide many state-level services, such as purchasing, he said, but nothing would prohibit a multi-county cooperative from doing statewide things to make for efficiencies for school systems. In 2016, the state board did have a report that basically said many things done at the RESA level could be done statewide to create greater efficiencies, O’Cull said, and that also was mentioned in the education efficiency audit.

“Putting all that together, I do think we have to look at this in maybe a guarded way, but it is a path for the future,” O’Cull said. “It is a path where we’re seeing a lot of need for decentralization…. It also preserves to a great degree some of those structures already in place to begin to move us in this direction, and it concentrates on student achievement.”

After speaking with many WVSBA members, he said, he found much confusion over the bill. “But again, I think it is the direction and the path, I think, for the future because if we’re going to really reach down and really meet the needs of our students in this state, we’ve got to free up administrators and others so that they can have services maybe outside their counties to concentrate on student achievement, and that, indeed, is what we’re in business for,” O’Cull said. “We can make this into something, and we can really make it work.”

Asked whether the elimination of the RESAs would save money on a state or local level,

he said, “I see it saving money, particularly at the state level.” The RESA purchasing plan has saved county boards a great deal of money, O’Cull said, and nothing would prohibit a cooperative from doing a lot of state-level work for all the counties.

“I think it will save money at both the local level, meaning the cooperative level, and the state level as well,” he said. Money saved could be put back into instruction and curricula, and more administrative work could be moved into enhancing student achievement, O’Cull said.

But Romano said he was worried that eliminating the RESAs would cost more money than it would save because they bring in so much grant money for school districts. “If we lose $29 million to save $3.5 million, it wouldn’t be very smart,” he said.

O’Cull said he had given that issue a lot of thought. He said the bill is written to allow cooperatives of different sizes to be formed. “I think you would be able to preserve those moneys, as long as the moneys and the grants go for the particular purpose that would meet the needs of all those counties,” he said, adding that something dealing with graduation rates or curricular instruction would work well. “In other words, you just wouldn’t be going to a geographically bound RESA, but rather you’d be going to counties that show an interest in getting those grants,” he said.

"Somebody’s doing this by the seat of their pants, and we do a lot of that on the seat of our pants around here, especially this year. We’re changing systems that have been in place for a long time…. That scares me.” – Sen. Mike Romano

Romano said he didn’t like the way the bill had been changed completely. “Somebody’s doing this by the seat of their pants, and we do a lot of that on the seat of our pants around here, especially this year,” he said. “We’re changing systems that have been in place for a long time…. That scares me.”

Speaking from his previous experience as a county commissioner, Romano said he found that “counties do not play nice with each other. Counties will not help each other.” He said he tried to form a regional economic authority but couldn’t persuade people to do it because “everybody’s wearing their high school football jacket” and didn’t want to give up anything to neighboring counties.  

O’Cull responded that school districts are losing so much in funding and students that they realize they must work together. He also suggested providing incentives for them to cooperate.

But Romano said, “Nobody works together, and if we lose $20 million one year, that would pay for the $3.5 million for the next seven.”

“You have a good point there,” O’Cull said. “There is nothing in here as far as incentivizing the counties to actually do this, except the fact they now have a structure that meets the needs of declining enrollment and other needs that they have. And the difference also is these are grants that, I think, have a purpose that is more specialized to the needs of all boards within a particular region.”

Noting that there would be a year to work out the bugs in the new system, he added that something new must be tried. “I can’t say that this will work, but I can say that there are others who don’t feel like the current system works,” O’Cull said.

"I can’t say that this will work (regional educational cooperatives), but I can say that there are others who don’t feel like the current system works…” — Howard O'Cull

Garcia told the committee that he had been working on the legislation since the governor’s inauguration address. He said Gov. Justice asked his staff to come up with a comprehensive education bill to take control from the state board and give it to the local boards as much as possible.

In 2014-2015, grant funding brought in by RESAs totaled about $54 million, while the RESAs received about $3.7 million in state funding. That funding would be removed by this House Bill 2711, he said, but it amounts to only about 7 percent to 9 percent of RESA funding, and much of it goes toward administrative expenses.

“The key to this whole bill is that this basically keeps RESAs in place with one exception: that the state board doesn’t control them, that they’re controlled from the county level, and that counties can get exactly what they want out of the RESAs,” Garcia said.

“The key to this whole bill is that this basically keeps RESAs in place with one exception: that the state board doesn’t control them, that they’re controlled from the county level, and that counties can get exactly what they want out of the RESAs.”- Joey Garcia

The cooperatives that would replace RESAs could range from two counties working together to all 55 counties working together, he said.

Garcia said about $16 million in funding for RESAs came from fees for services paid by the county districts, and about $17.7 million came from state grants. He said he hoped the proposed cooperatives would become more entrepreneurial to make up for the $3.7 million in cut state funding.

After hours of discussion, the Senate Education Committee approved House Bill 2711 on a vote of 10 to two. It received its first reading before the full Senate on Thursday.

 

By Jim Wallace

In general, Senate Bill 621 is about whether a county school board or the state school board should have ultimate control over decisions on school closures or consolidation. But specifically, many members of the House of Delegates saw it as a question of control over plans to close schools in the Nicholas County community of Richwood.

The bill, as originally written, would provide that any changes the state board would make in the closing or consolidation process would not apply to any project on which a county school board already notified the state board it was considering. But the House of Delegates amended the bill to make it say the opposite.

That vote came after a confusing debate in which delegates on both sides of the issue seemed to argue in favor of local control. It also came following a close vote in the House Education Committee after a representative of the Department of Education expressed no opposition to the bill.

Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the department, told the committee that, when a district wants to close a school, it must gather a lengthy set of documents that contains much individualized information about the school to be closed. The proposed action must be advertised in legal ads locally, she said, and the county school board must hold a hearing after which the board can vote on the proposal. Then the documents are sent to the state board, which can vote to approve it or reject it, and the West Virginia School Building Authority also must approve the closure, she said.

If the bill, as originally written, would be approved, Hutchins said, “The only change would be that, if there is some change to the state board rule after the county board of education has started compiling those documents and going through that labor-intensive process that usually last a couple of months, that if the state board of education changes one of its rules during that process, the county does not have to scratch all of its work and start back a ground zero. It can proceed under the rule as it existed when it began compiling the closure documents to prepare for the hearing.”

Then, she said, the department would have no objection to the bill.

“This may be a solution in search of a problem.” – Delegate Roy Cooper

Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, said, “This may be a solution in search of a problem. That’s what it kind of looks like on its surface, but I don’t know what’s driving this. So I’m probably going to vote no on the bill, and it’s probably a good bill, but I’m still going to vote no.” However, by the time the bill reached amendment stage on the House floor, he said he had changed his mind about it.

As a former county school board member, Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, said he favored restricting the ability of the state board to change a county board’s decision. “It’s very testing and trying when you go through this procedure,” he said. “It’s something that no board member truly wants to go through. But once you went through that procedure and then somebody changes the rules on you and you’re in the middle of that procedure, it even makes it tougher and harder to do. So I certainly believe that this is just a cleanup bill that needs to be put in place.”

But another former county school board member, Delegate Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, argued against the original version of the bill. “I think the system as is provides important checks and balances,” he said. “It is extremely difficult to undergo these processes, but I think the amount of time that’s put into them in the long run is a good thing, and the checks and balances that are provided are a good thing, even as difficult as it may be in the short run.”

The committee approved Senate Bill 621 in its original version on a vote of 10 to nine. 

When the bill was on amendment stage in the full House of Delegates on Wednesday, Delegate Dana Lynch, D-Webster, made it clear that the bill was directed at the situation in Richwood. “In 2016 in June, we had a terrible disaster in West Virginia,” he said. “We had a flood. Richwood was hit just about as hard as any community in the state.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency determined that Richwood schools could no longer be used. Subsequently, the Nicholas County Board of Education decided against rebuilding schools in Richwood and in favor of consolidation near Summersville. However, some supporters of the Richwood schools have reportedly urged the state school board to reject the county school board’s consolidation plan.

Lynch proposed an amendment to the bill that would remove one word – “not” – from the bill. Instead of saying that a state board decision to change rules “shall not be applicable to the school closing or consolidation project described in the county board’s notification to the state board,” the amended version says such a change “shall be applicable.”

Lynch said, “The state board has always approved these things in all counties, and now, all of a sudden, because we had a flood, is that a reason to consolidate schools? So they’re not going to allow the process to happen if this bill passes.”

House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, argued that closure or consolidation is an extensive process, so the state board should not be allowed to change the rules in the middle of the process for a specific project.

“This bill that’s been introduced is changing the course in the middle of the stream.” – Delegate Dana Lynch

But Lynch argued, “This bill that’s been introduced is changing the course in the middle of the stream. Nothing else has happened, and all of a sudden, this bill shows up, and it shows up at a time when this is happening in Nicholas County – one school versus another, a school board versus the state board, and somebody’s trying to stop somebody changing the process. So this is not for clarification; this is to stop the state board from doing its part, what it has always done and has authority to do.”

When the House voted on the amendment, Lynch’s side prevailed 53 to 46 and many members applauded. Espinosa and other members of House leadership, including Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, voted against it. But when the House voted Thursday to approve the amended bill by a vote of 66 to 32, House leaders voted for it while Lynch and others who helped amend the bill voted against it.

Now it is up to the Senate, which approved Senate Bill 621 on a vote of 24 to nine on March 28, to decide whether to accept it as the House changed it.

 

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates was scheduled to vote today on a bill that would allow county school districts to establish virtual school programs. But the House made changes in the bill, so the House and Senate would have to reconcile their differences for the bill to go to Gov. Jim Justice for his signature.

            Senate Bill 630 would establish what would be called the Accessibility and Equity in Public Education Enhancement Act. It would allow students to take all or part of their classes online and be considered public school students, which would allow school districts to include them in their headcounts and get funding for them through the School Aid Formula.

As the bill made its way through committees in the Senate and then the House, its biggest advocate was Kanawha County Supt. Ron Duerring, who said it would help the students and the public schools as well. He said the bill would allow for three types of students: those who are taught totally online, those who take a combination of online in regular classes and those who take only regular classes in school classrooms.

In Kanawha County, Duerring told the House Education Committee, that would help the public schools attract as many as 800 students who are not enrolled in public or private schools. He said many homeschooling parents have said they have trouble finding people to teach higher-level classes, so they would welcome getting them through the public school system.

“It certainly won’t displace teachers in any way, shape or form,” Duerring said. Instead, he said, the public schools could make better use of the teachers they have, such as hard-to-find math teachers. He suggested that a multi-county consortium could have students in different communities learn from a teacher in a particular math course.

“Say, for instance, South Charleston High School has 30 students who want to take trig online because they’re online totally,” Duerring said. “We could take a teacher during the day and say, we’re going to rotate you out one period a day and that’s when you’re going to teach this course. So it only enhances the public school system. It opens the doors and gives access to everybody, creating and enhancing, as the bill says, the equity and accessibility of public education.”

“All their parents are paying taxes, so they should have the access to public education, and we should be able to move with the times to be able to adapt and move forward like other states are doing.” – Kanawha County Supt. Ron Duerring

Another advantage he cited is that the bill would remove the dividing line between public school students and homeschooled students. “All their parents are paying taxes, so they should have the access to public education, and we should be able to move with the times to be able to adapt and move forward like other states are doing,” Duerring said.

The concept appealed to Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, who has nine homeschooled children. “If I decide to use this program that’s outlined in this bill, effectively…I get expert education for my kids that I don’t have to sit there and do,” he said. “I love engaging with my kids, but frankly, I’m not an expert on every topic. So they get the expert education. The taxes that I pay go to support that because the school system actually receives the School Aid Formula for my nine kids, and I don’t have to bus my nine kids to school. I don’t have to put up with them in the classroom asking silly questions, but they actually receive the education.”

"I can save money. I get expert education for my kids. The school system gets more money through the School Aid Formula, and you don’t have to bus my kids to school.” – Delegate Marshall Wilson

Wilson saw the concept as a win-win situation for both sides. “I can save money,” he said. “I get expert education for my kids. The school system gets more money through the School Aid Formula, and you don’t have to bus my kids to school.”

Duerring agreed. He added, “Because they’re enrolled in their home school, then they can participate in the activities, the sporting activities.” They also could access public school services, such as counseling, he said.

Asked whether a big district like Kanawha County could use the virtual school model to help smaller districts, Duerring replied, “Absolutely. That’s the intent. This is really not a Kanawha County bill to be quite honest. This is a multi-county bill. This is for everybody in West Virginia. You could have a group of counties that get together and develop a memorandum of understanding.”

The bill would allow all students to get the courses they need, and they could be awarded diplomas from their local high schools, he said. “Obviously, the courses don’t come free, but at the same time, some of those courses can be taught during the regular school day by teachers in our schools, so they’re already being paid and there’s no additional cost there as well.”

In response to questions, Duerring said the model also could be used for teaching expelled students and dropouts who are older than 18 and don’t want to go back into the regular school setting. “There’s just endless possibilities of how we could reach all students within our county and within our state, and they don’t have to lose out on their education,” he said.

Although the Senate approved the bill on a vote of 33 to nothing and it drew no detractors in the House, delegates were divided Thursday over an amendment offered by Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer. That amendment would insert into the bill language from House Bill 2196, which would allow homeschooled students to participate in secondary school extracurricular activities. Ellington is the lead sponsor of that bill.

Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, was among the delegates who objected to putting the provisions of House Bill 2196 into Senate Bill 630. He noted that House Bill 2196 had moved out of the Senate Education Committee on Thursday and seemed to be headed for passage in the Senate, so he saw no need to pass the same legislation twice. But House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, argued in favor of Ellington’s amendment because there is no guarantee the Senate would approve House Bill 2196.

The House voted 53 to 44 to approve Ellington’s amendment.

 

By Jim Wallace

Several education bills seemed to be headed for passage in either the Senate or the House of Delegates before the end of the 60-day regular legislative session Saturday night or they needed to have differences in House and Senate versions worked out.

Among them are bills affecting how the public schools handle homeschooled students, including House Bill 2196, which was the last bill to get through the Senate Education Committee on Thursday. The bill would allow homeschooled students to participate at their local public schools in activities overseen by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission.

During the committee’s discussion of the bill, Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said he had heard from public school officials who are concerned about not getting any funding for the homeschoolers who would participate in sports activities. But a homeschool advocate, Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, argued that homeschooling parents do pay for public schools.

“The homeschoolers in West Virginia have to pay the same taxes as everybody else does for property for schools,” she said. “Even though they are not in the school building, their money is being collected for schools.”

Asked about that issue, Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the Department of Education, said, “It is correct that a county only receives funding for those students that are enrolled students in the county.” She said a school district would not receive any additional money for homeschoolers participating in extracurricular activities. That would require a change in the School Aid Formula, she said. .

Rucker noted that there are about 11,000 homeschooled students in West Virginia. “What would happen to our school system if 11,000 students all of a sudden decided to enroll?” she asked.

“If 11,000 students decided to enroll, I think we’d probably have some very happy counties,” Hutchins said. “They would receive those 11,000 children, and they would be calculated as part of the state aid formula.”

“You mentioned the 11,000 homeschooled students. I would take them all if I had the chance.” – Grant County Supt. Doug Lambert

Doug Lambert, superintendent of the Grant County schools, agreed that, even though homeschooling parents pay property taxes, the public schools don’t receive any money through the School Aid Formula for homeschooled students. “You mentioned the 11,000 homeschooled students,” he told Rucker. “I would take them all if I had the chance.”

Before the Senate Education Committee sent House Bill 2196 to the full Senate, members made a few changes in it. The committee approved an amendment from Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, that would allow students at small private schools without athletic programs to participate in public school extracurricular activities.

The committee also approved an amendment from Romano that would require the state school board to determine the additional costs that would be borne by public schools for having non-enrolled students participate in athletic activities. He said that could lead to adjustments in the School Aid Formula. The committee approved that amendment on a vote of seven to four.

Finally, the committee approved an amendment from Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, that would require public schools to charge non-enrolled students the “same fees” as enrolled students for participation the sports. The original version of the bill would permit charging “reasonable fees.”

Later in the day, the Senate gave House Bill 2196 the first of three required readings, which would put it on track to pass in the Senate on Saturday. However, because the Senate made changes in the bill, the House and Senate would have to work out their differences for the bill to go to Gov. Jim Justice for his signature.

Language in the House version of the bill actually has two chances to get through because the House amended it into Senate Bill 630, which would allow public schools to create virtual school programs. That bill (which is covered in another story) was scheduled for a vote and possible passage in the House today.

Another bill affecting students not enrolled in public schools is House Bill 2589. It would require county boards of education to permit students who are homeschooled or attend private schools to enroll and take classes at the county’s vocational school. The Senate approved the bill Thursday on a vote of 34 to nothing and requested the House to concur in changes the Senate made. Before the vote, Senate Education Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, reflected on his service on the Monroe County school board and said, “We’re always trying to push better for our vocational schools…and I think this is a really good way of reaching out to all kids.”

One other bill affecting students not enrolled in public schools is House Bill 2651. It would require standardized tests to be administered to nonpublic students between the ages of seven and 17. That bill was on track to pass in the Senate on Saturday.

Several more bills also seem to be moving.

Other bills that could pass in the Senate before the end of the legislative session include:

  • House Bill 2702, which would affect students’ excused absences for personal illness. It was scheduled for a vote and possible passage today. The bill would provide:
    • That excused absences for personal illness, when involving “family members” of a student, as currently prescribed in current code, would be restricted to parents’ or guardians’ illnesses;
    • That the parent or guardian must provide a statement from a medical, osteopathic or chiropractic physician, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant confirming the existence of the illness or injury when a student misses school due to a parent or guardian’s illness or injury; and
    • That documentation of absences shall be provided to the school no later than three days after students return to school.
  • House Bill 2704, which would prohibit persons convicted of sexual offenses against children with whom they hold positions of trust from holding certification or licenses valid in public schools and from being employed by any educational, vocational, training, day care, group home, foster care program, or rehabilitation facility in the state. It would increase penalties for persons who are school employees and convicted of sexual offenses against children with whom they hold positions of trust. The bill was on track for passage in the Senate on Saturday.
  • House Bill 2720, which would permit the School Building Authority to transfer funds from the School Construction Fund into a special revenue account in the state treasury. The bill was scheduled for a vote and possible passage in the Senate today.
  • House Bill 2637 which would allow retired teachers to serve as substitutes beyond the normal limit of 140 days. It also would include speech pathologists and school nurses in that provision. The bill was on track for a vote and possible passage in the Senate today.
  • House Bill 2799, which would prohibit a school superintendent from requiring a physical examination to be included to the application for a minor’s work permit unless it is required by the prospective employer. The bill was on track for a vote in the Senate on Saturday.
  • House Bill 3061, which would encourage a limited cohort of not more than 20 schools initially to implement mastery-based education through the Innovation in Education program.  The bill was on track for a vote in the Senate on Saturday.

Two other bills have been approved in the Senate, but the Senate changed them, so differences must be worked out with the House of Delegates. They include:

  • House Bill 2771, which would provide for teaching certificates for spouses of members of the military who are stationed in West Virginia or within 50 miles of the state border. The Senate approved the bill Thursday on a vote of 34 to nothing.
  • House Bill 3080, which would institute a “Celebrate Freedom Week” in September and require the instruction on such founding American historical documents as the Declaration of Independence the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Senate approved the bill Thursday on a vote of 33 to nothing.

On Thursday, the House approved Senate Bill 656 on a vote of 91 to seven. It would allow ACT or the College Board to receive payment or other consideration for certain information only if after securing the affirmative written consent of the parent or student and only for providing the student access to employment, educational scholarships or financial aid and post-secondary educational opportunities. The House made changes in the bill, so the Senate will have to decide whether to accept the House version.

The House voted today 98 to nothing to approve Senate Bill 40, which would require protocols for responding to after-school injuries or emergencies to be included in school crisis response plans. But the House made changes in the bill, so it must go back to the Senate to see if senators will agree to those changes.

 

By Jim Wallace

By the end of the day on Thursday, the West Virginia Legislature had completed work on several education bills and sent them to Gov. Jim Justice for his signature.

Among them is Senate Bill 186 which would adjust the date upon which children become eligible for certain school programs and school attendance requirements. Instead of September 1, July 1 would become the date by which children would have to be four years old to enroll in early childhood education programs, five years old to enter kindergarten and six years old for the compulsory attendance law to apply.

Other bills approved by both the House and the Senate include:

  • Senate Bill 36, which would allow school nurses to possess and administer opioid antagonists at school. The House approved the bill last Friday 99 to nothing.
  • Senate Bill 256, which would prohibit school personnel who have engaged in sexual misconduct with students or minors from being assisted to find new employment without having that misconduct reported to the appropriate authorities and investigated. That legislation is needed to meet requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The House passed the final version of the bill 93 to nothing on Thursday.
  • Senate Bill 497, which would modify the liability of a physician offering volunteer care at school sporting events. The physician could be held liable only for acts of gross negligence or willful misconduct. The House approved the bill 91 to eight last Friday.
  • House Bill 2195, which would require county boards of education to implement comprehensive drug awareness and prevention programs for all students in grades kindergarten through 12. The programs would have to provide instruction regarding the dangers of substance abuse and be coordinated with drug rehabilitation specialists and law-enforcement agencies to periodically provide them opportunities for age-appropriate student education on the effects of illegal alcohol and drug use. The Senate approved the bill Thursday on a vote of 32 to two.
  • House Bill 2373, which would authorize school bus drivers trained in administration of epinephrine auto-injectors to administer them to students or school personnel experiencing anaphylactic reactions. It also would make school bus drivers immune from liability for use of epinephrine auto-injectors except in cases of gross negligence or willful misconduct. The Senate approved the bill on a vote of 34 to nothing Wednesday.
  • House Bill 2494, which would allow school districts to save money by removing a requirement that they must mail or send home with students copies of report cards on the schools. Instead, they would be able to post those school report cards on websites. They would have to provide paper copies only on request. Senate approved the bill Thursday 34-0 and the House agreed to changes made by the Senate.

 

By Jim Wallace

Many education bills that are introduced in the legislature die early by failing to move in committees, but at least three of them died late in the process this year.

Perhaps the most significant of them is Senate Bill 609, which would have raised school levies statewide to the maximum statutory rate. It would have given local school boards the option to roll back their levy rates, but it would have cost them funding they have been receiving.

Senate leaders crafted the bill that way to put $79.3 million back into the public education system that would be removed from state spending. The bill went to the House Finance Committee and then never moved again. The loss of the bill would seem to affect the Senate’s plans for the state budget.

Another bill that faltered is Senate Bill 401, which would have permitted a county board of education to base its employment decisions, transfers, reassignments and personnel reductions on each individual’s qualifications. It would have reduced the role of seniority in the process. The Senate approved the bill on a vote 28 to eight last week, but it never moved in the House Education Committee.

The third seemingly dead bill is House Bill 2571, which would have required the Department of Education and the Schools for the Deaf and the Blind to jointly select language developmental milestones from existing standardized norms for purposes of developing a resource for use by parents to monitor and track deaf and hard-of-hearing children’s expressive and receptive language acquisition and developmental stages toward English literacy.

The House voted 98 to nothing early in March to approve the bill, but when the Senate Education Committee considered the bill this week, advocates for deaf and hard-of-hearing children expressed conflicting views on what should be done. Senate Education Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, then decided to pull the bill and suggested the subject should be studied further in legislative interim meetings over the next year.

 

By Jim Wallace

The House approved two resolutions today that could lead to big changes in public education but not before next year at the earliest. The resolutions call for legislators to study issues during interim meetings over the next year and possibly consider them for a bill in the legislature’s next regular session, which will begin in January.

The first one, House Concurrent Resolution 127, would be a study on removing barriers to operational efficiencies based on advice from county school superintendents. Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the House Education Committee, told the committee it could result in eliminating some old legislation. “When bills are drafted, sometimes they’re drafted too specifically and don’t allow any flexibility except to follow a bunch of steps that maybe cost time and money in central offices to accomplish but don’t necessarily add anything,” he said.

Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, asked if the resolution could lead to studying the elimination of seniority in personnel decisions. Mohr said that would depend on what the superintendents would recommend.

"I think county superintendents are needing a forum that this might provide for them.” – Delegate Roy Cooper

Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, said, “I think county superintendents are needing a forum that this might provide for them.” He said many of them have come to legislative meetings and not been asked for their input.

Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, said, “I think it’s an excellent idea.”

The House also approved House Concurrent Resolution 31, which calls for a study the possibility of reducing the number of county boards of education in the state along with other educational reorganization. Delegate Ron Walters, R-Kanawha, is the lead sponsor of the resolution. He also sponsored House Bill 3008, which would have reduced 55 county school boards to 10 regional boards and made similar consolidations in administrative positions.

House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said it was difficult for legislators to consider such a large bill in the final weeks of the legislative session, so the resolution would allow its concepts to be considered over the next several months.

Mohr said such proposals have been talked about for a long time without getting into specifics. “It’s been talked about enough,” he said. “It’s probably time to take a look at what some of those specific issues are.”

Delegate Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, asked whether the provisions of this resolution could be included under the first resolution. Mohr responded, “I think the other one was more specific in looking at operational efficiencies. This maybe gets into a lot of governance kinds of issues that may be broader than operations.”

Cooper said, “You can bet your bottom dollar if you ever have a hearing you’ll have a lot of superintendents down here.” He said, “County systems are probably going to be looking at this as a way to their own survival. I would never, ever vote on a bill in a positive manner to tell two counties to consolidate. However, economically, those counties are going to have to look at where they stand at some point and start doing more.”

House Bill 2711, which would eliminate Regional Education Services Agencies (RESAs) and make other changes, would open the door to that, Cooper said. “The biggest fear counties have had down through the years is being taken over by the RESAs and just having another bureaucracy to answer to,” he said. “But we’ve done probably more good for the county school systems this session than we have in the five years I’ve been here just by telling them that you can form these co-ops on your own for services.”

“We’ve seen the negative effects of consolidation in our communities, and this is just asking for consolidation on a different level,” Delegate Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier

But Baldwin said he couldn’t support the resolution. “We’ve seen the negative effects of consolidation in our communities, and this is just asking for consolidation on a different level,” he said. The legislature has passed other bills to give more control to county school districts, he said, but this resolution would go the other way.

But Espinosa said, “We are charged with providing a thorough and efficient education.” Therefore, he said, legislators should explore what other efficiencies are possible.

“I do believe that government closest to the people is best,” Espinosa said. “But I don’t think that alleviates us of our responsibility to provide for an efficient education, so I certainly am open to study without assuming what the outcomes of that study will be to determine if, in fact, we can deliver more efficient delivery of services for the benefit of our students.”

 

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates and the Senate have passed bills with two different versions of the state budget for the next fiscal year, and they remain far apart from Gov. Jim Justice on the budget as they head into the final weekend of the legislature’s regular, 60-day session. It is typical for the governor to extend the session to allow legislators to complete work on the budget, but Justice announced Wednesday that he would extend the session for only one day.

"We’re going absolutely nowhere, so I’m extending the session for one day. In one day, we ought to be able to get everything done in regard to this budget.” – Gov. Jim Justice

We’re going absolutely nowhere, so I’m extending the session for one day,” the governor said. “In one day, we ought to be able to get everything done in regard to this budget.”

Actually, considering how far apart Justice is from legislative leaders on the budget, one day is unlikely to be enough to resolve their differences. That makes it more likely that Justice will have to call legislators back for a special session this spring to work out a budget bill, which would go into effect July 1.

Left unsaid is that, by extending the session by only one day, the governor limit’s the opportunity of legislators to override any vetoes he might issues. Legislators can override vetoes only when they are in session.

The Senate version of the budget, Senate Bill 199, is the most austere at $4.102 billion. It would rely almost entirely on cuts to balance the budget. Many agencies would face a 4 percent across-the-board cut, but budgets for some programs would be zeroed out. Higher education would be cut by about 15 percent or about $50 million. The Senate would cut state spending for the Department of Health and Human Resources by $47.7 million, but the cuts in spending would go even further because programs like Medicaid would give up matching federal funds.

The bill would cut public education by $76.6 million, but another bill, Senate Bill 609, would restore more than $79 million by raising local property taxes. County school boards would have the option to roll back levy rates to the current level. However, Senate Bill 609 has not moved since it was assigned to the House Finance Committee, so it likely is dead for the session.

Senate President Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said the budget plan was created by the Senate Republican caucus, led by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson. It conforms to Carmichael’s stated intention of not spending anything more than estimated revenues.

The House version, House Bill 2018, would spend $4.24 billion. It would include $137 million in increased tax revenue from broadening the sales tax base and eliminating certain exemptions. The bill would eliminate the Department of Education and the Arts, but some of its agencies and functions would be moved elsewhere in state government.

On Monday, Justice held a budget summit with leaders from business, labor, education and other fields who indicated they support his position on the state budget. Many wore “Stand with Jim” stickers.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look around this table and see the horsepower that’s sitting here,” Justice said. “It’s for real, and it’s a group of people who traditionally aren’t together very much.”

In February, Justice proposed a budget of $4.5 billion that included about $450 million in tax and other revenue increases and $26 million in cuts. Later, the governor offered a revised plan with $55 million in cuts and changes in his tax proposals. He proposed increasing the tax on soft drinks by two cents per container, increasing the cigarette tax by 20 cents per pack, new taxes on wealthy persons and the elimination of sales tax exemptions for telecommunications, electronic data processing and health clubs.

“I think these people are committing political suicide.” – Gov. Jim Justice

Although the governor had said last week that he thought he had reached a “mutual understanding” with Republican leaders in the House on the budget, he said Monday that it turned out they were not very close to an agreement. “I think these people are committing political suicide, Justice said.

“I’ve really tried, and I don’t want to sound negative,” Justice said. “What I see us doing now is spiraling us into no man’s land.”

_______

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.