|Day of Session||
(Including House of Delegates Pre-filed Bills)
“Journalism is literature in a hurry.” – Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), British poet and cultural critic.
Senators want digital learning to get going
By Jim Wallace
The Senate Education Committee approved three bills this week and learned the Legislature will have to more than double the money it spends on the GED test.
The bill that received the most attention over two meetings was Senate Bill 103, which would require the state school board to establish a digital learning program. It also calls for implementation of the state board’s Global 21 Middle School initiative.
Once the provisions of the bill are implemented, the cost to the state is projected to be about $1.75 million each year, but Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said it would be worth it.
“It’s important for us to get this out so the template can be made for the school boards.” – Sen. Bob Plymale
“It’s my feeling that this is so important for us to get into the digital age and start getting the digital learning tools out there that it’s important for us to get this out so the template can be made for the school boards,” he said.
The committee took up the bill on Tuesday but held it over to Thursday’s meeting, because members were concerned about not only whether schools and libraries would have broadband access to the Internet but also whether students would have enough access outside of their schools. So they called in Jimmy Gianato, director of the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, for an update on the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) for which the state received a $124 million federal grant.
Gianato said that, when the grant application was written two years ago, the plan was to provide broadband connections to 1,064 key anchor institutions throughout the state with high-capacity fiber. That turned into 1,062 sites because a couple of the facilities were in the same buildings as others on the list, he said.
Then, 88 were removed because they already had fiber broadband connections, Gianato said, and another 15 in Hardy County were removed because they were covered by a separate BTOP grant the county received. He said his agency is working with the Department of Education, the Department of Health and Human Resources, higher education and other agencies to come up with substitute sites to replace those removed.
“We anticipate right now that we will complete everything by December of next year, which will allow us about 60 days to clean up and finalize the grants.” – Jimmy Gianato
So far, Gianato said, 254 connections have been completed, including 208 that received improved service and 46 that received new service. “Sites with improved services are sites that had some connectivity or might have had fiber in place but did not have the proper electronics to be able to utilize that,” he said. There are 315 sites, including those in Hardy County, that have existing fiber that will receive routers to help them have expanded service, he said, while 674 sites are still without fiber and require engineering and a fiber build-out. Gianato said engineering plans have been submitted on 601 of those, which is 89 percent of the total, and those plans have been approved for 420 of them.
So far, 329.6 miles of fiber have been engineered and approved to build, and 134.1 miles have been built, he said.
“We have submitted a plan to the National Telecommunications Information Agency for the completed build-out of the project working with Frontier Communications and our implementation team, which has been approved by NTIA to assure that this project is finished on time and on budget,” Gianato said. “We anticipate right now that we will complete everything by December of next year, which will allow us about 60 days to clean up and finalize the grants.”
The total $124 million grant was divided into three segments. The fiber build-out to the 1,062 sites is the first segment. The second segment is connecting the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank with West Virginia University. The third segment is the enhancement of West Virginia’s public safety microwave system to add broadband to it.
Department of Education wants broadband in the schools.
Brenda Williams of the Education Department’s Office of Instructional Technology said the department is following a 12-step plan to take advantage of the BTOP build-out at public schools around the state.
“Our main goals are to make sure our schools are connected and they can get to the Internet.” – Brenda Williams
“Our main goals are to make sure our schools are connected and they can get to the Internet,” she said. “When school districts are notified that the fiber is ready, then we amend our plans. We look at the service order that was sent to Frontier based on what the schools will be paying for from any kind of state contracts or any other kinds of contracts they may be in locally.”
For Brenda Williams, use pix from past issues.
Plymale noted that the grant was being implemented across the state in sections with southern West Virginia coming last. He said he had heard that many engineering plans were being developed, so he wondered if they all would be ready on schedule.
“We’re actually in pretty good shape,” Gianato said. “We were about where the mitigation plan says we should be. Moneywise, we’re pretty much on track. We don’t see any issues there. We’re actually talking to the NTIA toward the end of the project, if there’s any funds left over what we could do with those funds. Because they told us repeatedly, there won’t be any extensions of this grant, so in February of ’13, it’s done. As I said, we anticipate having all the build-out completed on the final portion by December of next year. The microwave portion actually should be done by September. So it’s pretty much on schedule both time-wise and moneywise. We’ve been primarily focused on the build-out to get this done, and I think now, we really need to start thinking about the implementation and uses of this network once it’s built….We’ve got that golden opportunity, and we need to take advantage of it and offer some of these opportunities to the people of the state.”
Plymale said he was still concerned about whether many students would have broadband Internet access in their homes.
Gianato replied, “We’re also working as part of this but also outside of the grant with the Reconnect McDowell project. We hope that everything goes right to have everything done there by March so they can move forward with some of their other initiatives. So that’s in joint partnership with a lot of people. There’s going to be some other announcements forthcoming that may enhance some of the connectivity there.”
Project had to play catch-up
But Sen. Richard Browning, D-Wyoming, wanted to know what Gianato meant when he said the BTOP was on schedule with the “mitigation plan.”
Gianato explained that “in terms of the grant, we sat down with NTIA, Frontier and all the team members and looked at where we were in relationship to the grant and where we needed to be. At that time, we felt like we were behind where we needed to be. So we put together this plan to make sure that everything is in place to get us back on that schedule.”
When Browning asked why the project got behind schedule, Gianato replied, “There were issues with availability of the fiber because of the tsunami in Japan, and right after that, a hurricane came up the East Coast. A lot of the fiber we hoped to get went to the East Coast to rebuild that.”
Browning said many people were concerned that Frontier was going to get about $60 million to do the build-out and another $200 million to run the system. He also said he had been told the project wouldn’t take more than two years, so he wondered if it really was on schedule.
“We are,” Gianato said. “It’s actually already been implemented in some places.” He said the goal is to cover 85 percent of what originally was Verizon territory and is now Frontier territory with fiber.
The committee then approved Senate Bill 103, the digital learning program legislation, and sent it on to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.
Bill would put salary equity scheduled into code
Another bill that received the committee’s approval is Senate Bill 186, which addresses salary equity supplement payments for teachers and service personnel. Staff attorney Hank Hagar explained that the Education Department has a state salary equity schedule for years, but the legislative auditor recommended as the result of an audit that those salary schedules should be put into state code. That is what the bill would do.
This bill came out of a recommendation from the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability. It also would speed up a change in the way salary equity is determined. Under current law, the average salaries of the top five counties and compared to the average of the five lowest counties. The difference between them cannot be more than 10 percent. The bill would change that to using the top 10 counties.
The committee approved Senate Bill 186 and sent it to the Senate Finance Committee. The House Education Committee approved a similar bill, House Bill 4027, this week.
The other bill the Senate Education Committee approved is Senate Bill 112, which is the same as a bill passed by the Senate but not the House of Delegates last year. It would allow a school board to reassign a school service worker who cannot perform his or her regular duties because of an accident or illness. The temporary vacancy would not create a vacancy that requires a job posting. Also, unlike last year’s bill, the current one would not require that the illness or injury be related to the worker’s job.
That bill also went to the Senate Finance Committee after getting the Education Committee’s approval.
State, but not students, must dole out more for the GED
In other business, the Senate Education Committee learned that the GED test is becoming more expensive, but Education Department officials and lawmakers hope it will remain free for students. However, the Legislature will have to provide more money to make it so.
Committee members found out that the cost of the GED – General Educational Development – tests will more than double as the company that provides them switches from the traditional paper-and-pencil tests to computerized tests. The cost has been about $50 per test, but the electronic version will cost $120.
Committee members learned about the changes from Debra Kimbler, assistant director for GED in the Education Department’s Office of Adult Education and Workforce Development. She reminded them that the Legislature voted in 2008 for the state to pick up the cost of the tests, so they would be free to the people taking them. Since then, she said, 23,000 individuals have taken the test, and many of them would not have done so if they had had to pay $50 each.
Kimbler said the passage rate has been 73 percent in that time, which she contended has helped with economic growth. To back that up, she said that, since GED testing became free, her office has had 23,000 requests for transcripts. “The majority of those transcripts have been to get a job or to go on to post-secondary education,” she said.
In addition, schools now can offer the GED Option Pathway, which more than 500 students who were ready to dropout chose to pursue this year, Kimbler said. That program combines GED with a career-tech pathway for “the students that are ready to drop out of school because there is no hope,” she said.
Some of them are so far behind their classmates that they would be in their 20s when they graduate, while others are at high risk of dropping out of school for other reasons, Kimbler said. “Or some are actually starting out the door when we stop them and say, hey, let’s see if we can help you,” she said. “We give them the GED test for their core subjects and place them in a two-year, career-tech pathway where they will get the training and the skills for a job.”
“It’s remarkable. In my almost 30 years of education, I have never, ever experienced a high school student expressing their love for education like these students who were ready to walk out the door.” – Debra Kimbler
Some students have called it “lifesaving,” she said, while others have said their attitude toward education has never been better. “It’s remarkable. In my almost 30 years of education, I have never, ever experienced a high school student expressing their love for education like these students who were ready to walk out the door,” Kimbler said.
“We have saved over 500 students this year,” she said. “So such successes show that there is a need for the GED test. There is a need for free GED testing.”
Last year, when the GED Option Pathway was available only as a pilot project, it had 110 graduates, she said.
The American Council on Education, the nonprofit organization that owns the GED, has wanted to make it an electronic test since 2002, Kimbler said. To do that, the organization has merged with a for-profit company, Pearson VUE, the world’s largest provider of computer-based testing, she said.
Kimbler said the combined company has been doing testing to compare the paper-pencil version with the computer-based version, as well as usability tests. “These tests are proving that the student, even the older student, is able to pass a GED test using the computer,” she said.
However, Kimbler said, the Education Department has been “shocked” that the company wants to charge $120 per electronic test. That means the $360,000 the Legislature has budgeted to cover the cost of the GED tests will have to be boosted with an additional $420,000 if they are to remain free to the test-takers, she said. “We need to continue the free GED testing, because our clients couldn’t afford the $50 and they definitely can’t afford the $120,” she said.
“The Option Pathway has been a good proof that, given the second chance, our students are staying in school to take that GED and to take a career-tech education program, so that they will get their high school diplomas,” Kimbler said. “So it’s working. We’re going to save 500 students from dropping out of school this year.”
December 2013 will be the last month the paper-and-pencil version of the GED will be available, she said.
“It is my suggestion that West Virginia start computer-based testing in January of 2013,” Kimbler said. “Why? Because we will have to pay for the paper-pencil version that we’re taking now and then in December convert over to the computer-based testing, which would cost additional money. So I think it would be best if we start in January. I put it off as far as I could. I may take another look. We may be able to put it off until July, but I don’t see us saving money by putting it off until July.”
Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, wanted to know what type of research was conducted on the electronic tests. Kimbler said several states, including West Virginia, were involved, and the effort determined that the majority of people felt comfortable with computer-based testing. She said the company got 1,000 participants to take both tests, and they got about the same grades.
Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, said he had heard that some people with GEDs have trouble getting into the military. Kimbler said that, when the military is meeting its quotas, it doesn’t take GED graduates, but if the military is having trouble meeting quotas, it will consider GED graduates.
“We tell counselors to please tell their students if they’re dropping out of school to join the military, then they may not be accepted,” she said. “It all depends on if they’ve met the quota for that particular month.”
Laird said he thought the American Council on Education sold the GED to Pearson VUE, but Kimbler said it actually was an unusual merger between a nonprofit company and a for-profit company.
“Pearson VUE had the skills of turning that GED into a computer-based test,” she said. “The American Council on Education has the staff to develop such a test. So they are in partnership together.”
Kimbler also mentioned that several school districts want to offer the GED Option Pathway but don’t have enough funding for it, but Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, was skeptical, especially because the Legislature has let districts keep more School Aid Formula money in their local share than in the past.
“If they have more money from the local share, this would be a great thing to be spending it on, instead of some of the things that we’ve seen.” – Sen. Plymale
“If they have more money from the local share, this would be a great thing to be spending it on, instead of some of the things that we’ve seen,” he said. “We had 33 counties this past year spend their local share on out-of-formula positions. So I think that they can find ways to come up with the money instead of just asking the Legislature.”
Kimbler added, “Indirectly, it is funded, because they get to keep that per-student funding that comes in” for students who want to drop out after the school year begins.
“That’s sort of my opinion as well,” Plymale said.
Committee would relax requirements for school boards to have annual July meeting
By Jim Wallace
The House Education Committee approved four bills this week, including one that was requested by several county school boards.
Dave Mohr, a legislative analyst for the committee, said House Bill 4072 deals with the general section of state code that talks about county board meetings. The code requires boards to meet on the first Monday in July every year, he said, but the intent of the bill is to remove that section, so they don't have to do that in years when they don't have to elect presidents. In other words, after each biennial election for school board members, boards would still have to meet on the first Monday of July, but they would not have to do so in non-election years.
That bill has received two readings on the floor of the House of Delegates and is poised for passage this week. That would send it to the Senate for consideration.
Another bill the House Education Committee approved is House Bill 4027. Mohr said it would put into statute the salary equity schedule currently maintained by the Department of Education. He explained that the requirement for salary equity resulted from the Recht decision of 1982 on fair and equitable school funding, but a legislative audit found that the Department of Education really has had no authority for the salary equity schedules. In other words, he said there has been a statutory mandate for the salary equity schedules but no guidelines for doing it.
Under salary equity, salaries in the county with the lowest pay cannot be more than 10 percent lower than those in the counties with the highest pay.
The bill came from a recommendation by the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability. A similar bill, Senate Bill 186, received approval this week from the Senate Education Committee.
House lawmakers try again to honor top students
The third bill the committee approved was House Bill 4020, which is about the same as a bill approved last year in the House that did not make it through the Senate. It would establish a program to recognize outstanding students whose scores are among the top ten of all students in the state in specific subjects that are covered by WESTEST2. The students would be recognized with “All State” distinctions in those categories for their grade levels.
It would be up to the state school board to develop a rule to implement the program.
The final bill, House Bill 4070, would make a minor change in state law affecting the salaries of teachers who work for the Division of Rehabilitation. Currently, the law states that they should be paid salaries equivalent to those of teachers in the county in which they work. That was Kanawha County until the Rehabilitation Center at Institute was closed last year.
Now, those teachers are spread out among facilities in Fayette, Putnam and Monongalia counties, which have different salary levels. The bill would provide for the rehab teachers to continue to get salaries at the Kanawha County level by specifying that those salaries should be based on where the Division of Rehabilitation’s headquation is located, which is in Kanawha County. The cost of the bill is projected to be only $42,700.
All of the last three bills have gone to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.
--Jim Wallace is a former government reporter for the Charleston Daily Mail and former news director of West Virginia Public Radio. He now works for TSG Consulting in Charleston and writes for several national and West Virginia publications.
News Media Roundup
The following is a compilation of news media articles relating to public education in the Mountain State.
Local Student’s Efforts to Help Soldier Leads to State Award
Physical Activity Day to Include Cupid Shuffle
Students Donate to MCHS
Monongalia Board of Education Discusses Personnel Changes
Voters Against Proposed Harrison County School Bond
MCC Hears Concerns About Officers at Mingo High Schools
Ruling a Setback for Cyber Bullies
Kanawha County Cutting 27 Teaching Positions
Judge Bearing Down on Truancy
Poca High School Teacher Suspended a Second Time This Year
Poca Science Teachers Encourage Collaboration
Cupid Shuffle Will Have Seniors and Students Moving
Thousands of State Students to Join in Line Dance
Capital High Band Director’s Job Safe
Supreme Court Rejects Former Musselman High Student’s Appeal in Cyber-Bullying Case
Online Petition Created to Support Chris Olsen
Finger Scanning Utilized at Two West Virginia High Schools
School Officials Issue 66 RIF Letters
Brooke High School Students Serve Community
Court Rejects Appeals in Student Speech Cases
State Board Votes to Close Schools
Mason County Schools Receive Favorable OEPA Report
How Cabell County Board of Education Members Decide on “Snow Days”
Deaf Student’s Battle with BOE is Over