Legislative News

Overview

 

Inside

The Thrasher Group

February 12, 2016 — Volume 36 Issue 5

 

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

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee spent most of its time this week – about six hours in three meetings over two days – considering an anti-Common Core bill, which state Supt. Michael Martirano said would create “chaos” in West Virginia’s public education system.

Although the legislation, House Bill 4014, was listed as one of three bills on the committee’s agenda for a meeting today, Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Berkeley, said Thursday the meeting would address only two bills and House Bill 4014 was then removed from the agenda. It’s not clear whether the House Bill 4014 will go forward. In questioning about the bill over the past two days, some committee members – including at least a few in the Republican majority – indicated doubts about whether the bill should be passed. At the end of the second of two meetings Thursday, the leading Democrat on the committee, Delegate David Perry, asked Espinosa, who is one of the bill’s sponsors, what his intent was in regard to the bill. Espinosa responded that he would consult with Perry, D-Fayette, and other members before they “determine the best path forward.”

Espinosa gave Perry a similar response this morning. However, he added that Republican members of the committee would caucus today, so they might determine then what to do with the bill.

Martirano contends West Virginia’s content standards no longer are based on Common Core since the state school board adopted the West Virginia College- and Career-Ready Standards in December to replace the West Virginia Next Generation Standards, which were based on the Common Core State Standards that were initially adopted by all but a few states. However, critics contend that the new standards are not different enough from Common Core. At a public hearing February 4 on the bill, eight people – including two delegates who are sponsors of the bill – spoke in favor of it, and seven people – including Martirano and others from the public and higher education systems – spoke against it.

Much of House Bill 4014 was rewritten this week, but its purposes are still listed as:

  • Preventing the West Virginia Board of Education from implementing Common Core academic standards and assessments;
  • Establishing a process and criteria for the state to develop alternate academic standards and assessments;
  • Prohibiting the state board from entering into any agreement which requires implementation of Common Core standards or limits constitutional authority and obligation to provide a thorough and efficient system of education; and
  • Requiring the state board to report to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education and Accountability.

When the committee held a two-hour meeting Thursday morning, Martinaro spent most of that time answering delegates’ questions and speaking against the bill. Among his points was that the bill would send the education system into turmoil by forcing the abandonment of the current standards, reverting to 2010 standards and assessments for one year and then adopting new standards after their development. Toward the end of that meeting, an exchange between Espinosa and Martirano summed up sentiments on both side of the issue.

“The board put in place standards back in December with less than a year to implement these utilizing the same testing,” Espinosa said. “Can you appreciate or understand the skepticism that anything really significant has changed here with regard to the standards?”

“Sir, I can appreciate that,” Martirano said. “I mean full-heartedly you’re talking to a gentleman with the purest heart who just wants to improve the education of the children. I am open to suggestions. I am open for feedback to improve. But I’m also viewed as an educational expert in this arena, and I’m trying to determine what the end result is. Through this legislation, I’m not at the level of clarity seeing what that end result is. I’m confident that there is a way to get to this same end line that builds trust, that eliminates that skepticism and that eliminates the politics from this.”

“I’m asking and I’m pleading once again to this committee, to this legislative body, please let’s do this in a thoughtful, deliberate manner that does not further put disruption into an educational system that I have been hired to work with all of you collaboratively to improve.” – Supt. Michael Martirano

Saying the goal should be about improving the system for young people, Martirano said, “I’m asking and I’m pleading once again to this committee, to this legislative body, please let’s do this in a thoughtful, deliberate manner that does not further put disruption into an educational system that I have been hired to work with all of you collaboratively to improve. I’m speaking for myself as your state superintendent now, and I think in many ways we are on the right track for improvement, to build trust and avoid that skepticism. But I do not view that a draconian cut and a shift in direction and moving back to 2010 and creating concerns regarding assessments in the financial climate now at a time when I’m having a hard time hiring teachers has created more than a perfect storm for one man as your state superintendent to overcome, as I’m thinking about those 277,000 young people who are counting on us to get this right to my teachers who I’ve talked to who said please stop this disruption.”

In addition, he said, he was appealing to both the intellects and emotions of the delegates and asking for a continued conversation on the matter. “I’m also aware of the authority of this legislative body,” Martirano said. “I’m very respectful of this body, and I’ve availed myself to whomever wants to talk to me about this topic, and I’m viewing this as a non-adversarial relationship. But please, as your educational expert in this state, please listen to my concerns. They’re valid, they’re based upon data, and they’re based upon improving for all of our children so that they can compete in the 21st century. And that’s what I’m trying to do is look to the future, not the past.”

The new standards are based on the results of a review process that lasted several months last year after a bill to ban Common Core standards died at the end of the legislature’s 2015 regular session. Martirano said more than 250,000 online comments, about 10,000 written comments and the results of eight town meetings were used in revising the standards. He said 94 percent of individuals who expressed opinions about the standards expressed satisfaction in them.

Among the changes he said were made in the standards were:

  • An added requirement to teach cursive writing;
  • Explicit inclusion of a requirement to teach multiplication tables;
  • Inclusion of calculus standards;
  • Adjustments for developmental appropriateness; and
  • Compression of the standards, making them simpler to use.

Martirano said the new standards are similar to the old standards, and that is good. “If I brought all 50 states’ standards together, there’s going to be an 80-to-90-percent level of compatibility because you just don’t start teaching young children in kindergarten the quadratic equation,” he said. “You start with cardinal, ordinal, nominal numbers.”

The standards West Virginia had before Common Core were about 60 percent the same as Common Core in math and more than 80 percent the same in English/language arts, Martirano said. West Virginia’s new standards are about 90 percent similar to the current standards in Massachusetts and California. That’s notable because some Common Core critics have suggested that West Virginia should adopt standards like those states.

A big difference between the new standards and former standards is that the new standards emphasize the application of knowledge to solve problems and encourage critical thinking.  “Knowledge just for the sake of knowledge without application, in my definition, is malpractice,” he said.

Noting that today’s kindergarteners will graduate from high school in 2029, Martirano said it is important for the standards to prepare students for the workforce of the future, not the way things were six or seven years ago.

“These kinds of shifts in education have to be done artfully. They have to be done with a surgeon’s precision. They can’t be done with a lumberjack’s hatchet and just abolish a set of standards on one day and expect for a full level of implementation in several months.” – Supt. Michael Martirano

“These kinds of shifts in education have to be done artfully,” he said. “They have to be done with a surgeon’s precision. They can’t be done with a lumberjack’s hatchet and just abolish a set of standards on one day and expect for a full level of implementation in several months.”

Delegates express concerns about bill.

When Perry asked what the cost of implementing new standards would be, Martirano said, it would be big, but he was more concerned about the effects on teachers and students of having three different sets of standards within three years. “That residual cost would disrupt my teachers, would disrupt my students and will not provide us with the data we need to provide additional assistance to our young people,” he said. “And I cannot put a price tag on that because it’s priceless.”

Perry also asked whether the bill’s timeline for implementation of new standards is realistic.  “Absolutely not,” Martirano said. It would create “chaos” in the system at a time when a more pressing problem is to try to fill almost 600 teaching vacancies in the state, he said.

Delegate Brian Kurcaba, R-Monongalia, asked why there wasn’t a big outcry about shifting to new standards five years ago at the beginning of the implementation of the Common Core-based standards. Martirano, who was the leader of the local superintendents’ organization in Maryland at the time, said some concerns were expressed within the education system, but it didn’t receive as much public attention. He said education leaders in many states expressed concerns about lack of support, the ambitious timeline for the change and the disruptive nature of the change. He shared in that criticism, he said, because the implementation of the new standards could have been much better. The process West Virginia has used over the past year to adopt new standards has been more “organic,” involving teachers, rather than top down, the way Common Core standards were adopted, he said.

“I’m having a little difficulty understanding where the logic is for that because we’re already working under a set of standards. Our teachers and staffs already are trained. It’s going to cost us some money to retool any way you look at it for next year.” – Delegate Joe Statler

Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, asked why the state should shift back to 2010 standards for a year just to switch to new standards the year after that. “I’m having a little difficulty understanding where the logic is for that because we’re already working under a set of standards,” he said. “Our teachers and staffs already are trained. It’s going to cost us some money to retool any way you look at it for next year.”

Statler, who served on the school board in Monongalia County, also questioned a provision in the bill that would create the West Virginia Student Academic Educational Standards Evaluation Panel. He said that would add another layer of bureaucracy. The bill calls for that panel to include three nationally recognized experts in English/language arts and three nationally recognized experts in mathematics. They would be appointed by the president of the Senate and speaker of the House of Delegates and would have to report to the legislature by July of this year.

“We do have a problem with this for sure, and I don’t want to go backwards. If you came and talked to the teachers of Wood County, they would tell you, if we went back to 2010, we would lose rigor.” – Christie Willis

When Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood and one of the bill’s sponsors, asked if changing the standards in the way prescribed by the bill would cause problems for school districts, Christie Willis, director of curriculum instruction for the Wood County schools, said, “Going back to 2010 is going to cause us some difficulty on the home front.” She said her district no longer has the textbooks used in 2010.

“We do have a problem with this for sure, and I don’t want to go backwards,” Willis said. “If you came and talked to the teachers of Wood County, they would tell you, if we went back to 2010, we would lose rigor.”

As the committee discussed the bill late Wednesday afternoon, members of the state school board came into the meeting room. Delegate Perry asked Beverly Kingery, a board member who previously served as superintendent of the Nicholas County schools, about what her district went through when it implemented the former standards based on Common Core. She said it took four years and Nicholas County partnered with Braxton and Webster counties to pool resources to handle it.

“We did extensive professional development over those four years, and the issue that the teachers had was never with the standards,” she said. “They understood what they were supposed to teach because they’re professional people, and that’s what they’re trained to understand – their curriculum.”

Even though she is retired from her former position in Nicholas County, Kingery said many teachers there contacted her this week about the anti-Common Core bill. She said they told her, “Whatever you can do to stop this movement in Charleston, please do that for us. Our students are finally catching on, and we’re finally seeing some growth. It’s been hard. It’s been difficult simply because it’s a more rigorous curriculum for our students.”

Anti-Common Core activist says most repeal efforts haven’t worked.

At the House Education Committee’s third meeting on the bill Thursday evening, members heard from Erin Tuttle, a researcher for the American Principles Project, a national organization that promotes libertarian and social conservative issues, including opposition to Common Core. She expressed support for House Bill 4014, but she admitted that efforts to repeal Common Core standards in other states haven’t gone as well as her group had hoped.

“It’s all been a rebrand, because no matter what you write, a lot of times in your law to repeal Common Core, the state departments of ed. always want to come back and give you Common Core,” Tuttle said. “You can put some requirements on it, but they always and forever will bring you back Common Core.”

One provision of House Bill 4014 that she thought might make a difference is the one to create the West Virginia Student Academic Educational Standards Evaluation Panel because it’s a good idea to have somebody looking at the requirements.

“What I’m telling you is that there isn’t a state who has repealed Common Core that has done good standards.” – Erin Tuttle

“What I’m telling you is that there isn’t a state who has repealed Common Core that has done good standards,” Tuttle said. Among the states she cited were her home state of Indiana, as well as Oklahoma, Missouri and South Carolina. That prompted a question from Delegate Statler.

“My question to you is then: If not this, what?” he asked. “You just said no matter what we do, the state department is going to go back to the Common Core.”

Tuttle replied, “I thought this bill was good in the sense that it had more criteria. There are things in Common Core that are not bad.” She added that the change “shouldn’t be a total upheaval.” She said it would be more a matter of taking things out of the standards rather than putting things in to get standards as good as those in Massachusetts.

Asked about the bill’s provision for West Virginia to revert to its 2010 standards for one year before adopting newly developed standards, Tuttle called that a mistake and unnecessary.

Delegate criticizes state board president.

Although Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, is not a member of the House Education Committee, he took the opportunity of commenting on the effort to ban Common Core standards during a speech on the floor of the House of Delegates on Monday. Specifically, he refuted comments made by Mike Green, president of the state school board, during last week’s public hearing on House Bill 4014.

Green had said, “It saddens me every single day that these standards continue to get attacked by people who have never even looked at a single standard or even made an intelligent or appropriate remark or comment about any of them. But they continue to broad-brush this and say these standards have to go. That makes no sense.”

Folk was especially upset that Green said the development of standards should be left to educators and not changed by legislators.  “If we prescribe it by law, then they must do it,” Folk said. “For him to say that we have no authority over education, I think is quite frankly very offensive.”

Further, he said, he was not one of those people who criticized the standards without reading them. “I went through them line by line, every change – every change in math, every change in English,” Folk said, and he found just a few changes, some only cosmetic. “These standards are literally littered with very benign changes. One place they said they deleted the standard, but if you look at the proposed now standards, it’s still there.”

 

By Jim Wallace

The Senate Education Committee approved four bills this week but spent the most time on a bill held over until next week for further consideration. The bills the committee approved would change the definition of the school year, require county boards to pay tuition for students at the Mountaineer Challenge Academy, increase one county’s mandatory attendance age to 18 and establish a new fund for public libraries. The committee also spent more than two hours in two meetings Thursday discussing a bill to allow home-schooled students and students at private schools to participate in extracurricular activities at public schools, but the senators did not reach a conclusion on it.

In addition, the full Senate voted unanimously Thursday to approve Senate Bill 378 to improve truancy intervention efforts. The bill would clarify what constitutes an excused absence and ensure that various excused absences are described with sufficient specificity in the law to enable courts to enforce those provisions. Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump said the current truancy law leaves students with too many loopholes for excused absences, such as the illness of relatives who might not even live in West Virginia. The bill now goes to the House of Delegates for further consideration.

Among the bills approved by the Senate Education Committee this week was Senate Bill 313, which was written to change the mandatory school instructional days from 180 days to minutes over a period of 180 days based upon the minimum amount of hours of instruction offered to students provided by state board rules. As Hank Hager, counsel for the committee, explained the rewritten version of the bill approved by the committee Thursday would allow limited use of accrued instructional time when it is not possible for school districts to hold 180 separate days of instruction.

“It does limit the use of accrued instructional time to the amount that’s necessary to avoid scheduling instruction on any day after the last day of instruction that was originally scheduled in the school calendar,” he said. “It also prohibits accrued instruction time from being used until all available non-instructional, out-of-calendar days occurring before the last instructional day as originally scheduled have been used.”

The bill also would allow the state school board to promulgate an emergency rule, if necessary, to deal with calendar scheduling problems, Hager said.

Another bill the committee approved this week is Senate Bill 459, which is legislation proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. It would require the West Virginia Board of Education to promulgate a rule that would require payment of tuition by a county board of education to the Mountaineer Challenge Academy for each student from any school district that graduates from the academy with a high school diploma. The academy is for students at risk of not succeeding in the traditional school structure. The tuition would be equivalent to 75 percent of the amount allotted per pupil under the School Aid formula.

Senate Bill 459 was scheduled for the second of its two required readings before the full Senate today, so the Senate could pass it on Monday. It is similar to House Bill 4325, which the House Education Committee has approved and sent to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.

Major Gen. Jim Hoyer of the West Virginia National Guard, which runs the academy, told House members that the legislation is part of a plan to increase the number of students who go through the academy. The academy, which gives military-style training to troubled students, runs on a calendar year with two sessions rather than a school year, he said. The first session runs from January to June. The second runs from July to December.

Hoyer said the National Guard is funded for 125 graduates per class, but now it is up to 145 per class. The federal government reimburses the Guard for 75 percent of the costs of 125 students per class but not the others, he said, and the objective is to get up to 200 graduates per class. On average, 85 percent of the students who go through the academy achieve high school diplomas, he said, and that has helped increase the state’s graduation rate over the past two years.

The National Guard is working with the Department of Defense to increase its reimbursement from 125 students per class to 150 students and then incrementally up to 200, he said.

Another bill the Senate Education Committee has approved would affect just one county.

Senate Bill 483 would grant a waiver to Marshall County to increase the compulsory school attendance age in Marshall County from 17 to 18. Representatives from the district told legislators earlier this year that raising the attendance age would help in efforts to reduce truancy. The Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability recommended the waiver.

The bill is scheduled today for the second of three readings before the full Senate, so the Senate could approve it on Monday.

One bill that received the Senate Education Committee’s approval this week would not affect school districts directly but could help improve education-related facilities in their counties. Senate Bill 299 would create a Library Facilities Improvement Fund, set forth its general structure and provide for rule-making about it.

The West Virginia Library Commission would administer the fund. It would consist of appropriations from the legislature, money from external sources, repayments of loans made by the commission and interest and other income from investments from the fund.

The fund would be used to support public library construction, renovation, maintenance and improvement projects. Loans would be available to libraries for energy savings and critical maintenance projects. All other expenditures would be matched on at least a dollar-for-dollar basis with funds obtained from other sources. A fiscal note prepared for the bill indicates it would incur no costs for the state. 

Senate Bill 299 also was scheduled today for the second of three readings before the full Senate, so the Senate could approve it on Monday.

RESA bill awaits second committee’s attention.

Yet another piece of legislation of concern to school districts is Senate Bill 373, which would give county school districts more control over the Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) that serve those districts. It is awaiting consideration by the Senate Finance Committee. The Senate Education Committee approved it last week on an eight-to-six vote.  Opponents contended the bill isn’t needed because the state school board already has taken steps to give school districts more authority over their RESAs.

When Senate Bill 373 started out, its stated purpose was to grant full control of the boards of Education Regional Education Service Agencies to the state superintendent. That would include the selection of executive directors and support staff as well as the organization and operations of the RESAs. But the bill has been rewritten to provide school districts more control over the RESAs they are in.

WVSBA comments.

Howard O’Cull, executive director of the West Virginia School Board Association, said his organization has analyzed the legislation, concluding the present State Board rule regarding RESAs would prohibit the agencies from acting in a “free-lance manner” or as eight “autonomous agencies.”

“In reviewing the proposed legislation, the West Virginia Board of Education’s existing rule, which would be modified to include the county board/county superintendent governance provisions, is overarching in virtually all aspects of RESA operations. Unless this Code section were amended in a ‘structural sense,’ thereby causing a modification or displacement of major rule provisions or Board intent, as now included in the rule, the WVBE’s RESA oversight remains encompassing,” O’Cull said.

He also said many of the objections he has heard about the bill are largely “subjective or speculative. Most of the analyzers skirt past the fact RESAs operated for 30 years largely as described in Senate Bill 373.”

O’Cull also questions whether RESAs would lose funding if governed by county board member and county superintendent representatives.

“Again, this is speculative. As I recall from previous discussions of these issues, a percentage of the grants RESAs receive are flow-through moneys from the state Department of Education, although that obviously is not the totality of these funds,” said O’Cull.

The concerns that RESAs would have to forfeit a major cooperative purchasing program if moving to a differing governing model is “a matter that must be considered with great care,” according to O’Cull.

“In most such arrangements, however, there are provisions relating to successor organizations. In fact, county board energy savings contracts and similar programs come to mind. Again, as illustrated in the State Board Rule, RESAs are LEAs for funding purposes and other constructions of the rule. No one wants any program of this magnitude to collapse. This aspect of the discussion does raise a significant question. If the bill is considered by Senate Finance, I am sure those and other RESA fiscal issues will be discussed,” he said.  

O’Cull said no House companion bill has been introduced and he also stated the original bill was amended to include the county board/county superintendent governing language. “The original measure would have placed RESAs ‘under’ the state superintendent of schools’ offices,” he said.

The WVSBA executive director also stated the association did not provide the impetus for the amended bill but that WVSBA, through its governing board which speaks for the organization, supports the legislation.

Opening up public schools’ extracurricular programs troubles some senators.

The bill that took up most of the Senate Education Committee’s time without resolution this week is Senate Bill 105. Its purpose is to provide that students being taught at home or by private tutors, or enrolled in private, parochial or church schools or schools operated by religious orders may participate in extracurricular activities, including sports teams of public schools.

Certain committee members expressed concerns that the bill could have unwanted implications for public schools that had not been fully contemplated. Amanda Shelton, a parent, teacher and official of the West Virginia Secondary School Activity Commission from Clay County, also expressed such concerns. She said the bill doesn’t make it clear whether extracurricular activities other than sports would be included, it could lead to problems with the recruiting of students, the academic requirements for students’ participation are “muddy,” and it’s not clear whether a private school student could participate on a public school sports team even if that student’s private school has a team in that sport.

“Their parents didn’t make them come to school, so they’re in trouble with the truancy officer so they opt for home-school in order to avoid that problem…. The public perception is – of people who know home-school – of two different realms. You got the wonderful ones and you got the ones who use it as a backup, getting away from the rules.” – Amanda Shelton

Another problem Shelton cited involves parents who pull their children out of public school under the ruse of home-schooling when they really seek to avoid problems over truancy and other issues. “Their parents didn’t make them come to school, so they’re in trouble with the truancy officer so they opt for home-school in order to avoid that problem,” she said. “The public perception is – of people who know home-school – of two different realms. You got the wonderful ones and you got the ones who use it as a backup, getting away from the rules.”

Shelton said Clay County typically has about five students who switch from public schools to home-schooling just to avoid the rules each year. She said it would be unfair to then allow those students to participate on the public school sports teams.

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, was among the committee members who also had concerns about the bill. For example, he said, said it could result in financial burdens for public schools in accommodating home-schooled students or private school students for whom the public schools don’t receive any School Aid Formula money.

“There’s no funding mechanism for the kids coming over from the private, parochial, religious schools to the public school system for these activities that the public school kids’ taxes are going toward,” he said, adding that the same would be true for home-schooled students. “What we’re doing is making it real easy to choose not to go to our public schools.”

Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, argued that public schools already getting plenty of tax dollars from people who do not send their children to public schools. “I think it’s wrong to look at children, the children of West Virginia, as if they were spending units or dollars and cents,” he said.

The committee suspended further consideration of the bill until next week when its second meeting of the day on the subject ran long on Thursday evening.

 

By Jim Wallace

Although House Education Committee members spent most of their meeting time this week on anti-Common Core legislation, the committee did approve three bills. Two deal with School Building Authority funding and the third is designed to get more information to public school students about financial aid for higher education. Also, a subcommittee working on the school calendar decided to start over on writing legislation.

House Bill 4147 would make the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind eligible to participate in any and all funding administered or distributed by the West Virginia School Building Authority. The legislature passed a similar bill last year, but Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed it because it could have redirected funding from projects proposed by county school districts and because the funding needs for facilities at the Schools for the Deaf and Blind in Romney had not been determined yet. Since then, a report on the funding needs has been prepared.

As Delegate Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire, noted, the schools serve 679 students and they now have a new superintendent who is deaf.

House Bill 4147 has received two of three required readings in the full House of Delegates. The House could pass it as soon as today and send it on to the Senate.

Today, the House Education Committee approved House Bill 4461 and sent it to the House Finance Committee. The bill would change an eligibility requirement for school major improvement fund projects through the School Building Authority that could penalize county boards that reduce maintenance costs through improved preventive and predictive maintenance practices. The current eligibility threshold is a dollar amount annual expenditure at least equal to the lowest annual maintenance expenditure in three of the last five years. The bill would replace it with a submission of annual facility maintenance expenditure data for joint review by the authority and the Education Department’s Office of School Facilities and Transportation to assist in determination of the most meritorious projects for funding.

The second bill the committee approved today is House Bill 4467, which would include financial aid planning and completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) in secondary school instruction in personal finance.  It also would include in that instruction the objective of building student familiarity with the variety of additional free resources such as those offered by the College Foundation of West Virginia to assist families and students plan, apply and pay for education and training beyond high school. The bill now goes to the full House of Delegates for consideration.

Calendar bill gets scrapped in favor of another try.

Also this week, a subcommittee of the House Education Committee decided to start over on developing legislation affecting the school calendar. Last week, the subcommittee members decided to discard several bills on that subject and narrowed their consideration to House Bill 4171. But at a meeting Monday, they decided it wouldn’t work either.

“In essence, we’ve pretty well killed [House Bill] 4171,” the subcommittee chairman, Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, said. “I think that we probably need to table 4171.”

As it was written, House Bill 4171 would have provided that school instructional terms for students could begin no earlier than the day after Labor Day and end no later than the second Friday in June. It also would have provided that, in the event instructional days would need to be cancelled, county school boards would have to provide for ten “technology” days during which assigned classwork could be completed by students at home. In addition, it would have provided for homework packets be given to students who do not have the necessary computer access at home to do the regular technology-day work.

“We’re clearly stuck in mud, and we got to bring this thing forward.” – Delegate Joe Statler

Statler said he would ask committee counsel to work through the notes from the committee’s meetings and devise a new bill based on the intent of the subcommittee. “We’re clearly stuck in mud, and we got to bring this thing forward,” he said.

Items that Statler said the subcommittee members seem to agree should go into the new bill include allowing districts to request up to five technology days, leaving in the code the requirement for 180 days of instruction and not limiting the window during which those days could be scheduled.

“So that would presently be in code the way it is,” Statler said. “We have a request from Monongalia County Supt. Frank Devono to provide more flexibility in faculty senate days.

Teachers would like to have the first two days of the school year only for setting up their classrooms, Statler said, but sometimes superintendents or principals encroach on that time.

“We’re also, as a committee, trying to put the accrued minutes in there – the banked time as I refer to it as,” he said. The subcommittee is considering the possibility of using that accrued time to make up for snow days, he said, but legislators must be careful not to prohibit the use of a year-round calendar, as some schools do now.

The subcommittee had scheduled another meeting for Thursday morning, but the full Education Committee met then instead for the second of three long meetings dealing with an anti-Common Core bill.

 

By Jim Wallace

Bills are moving on both sides of the legislature to help school districts with high proportions of students with special needs who are very costly to serve. But they take different approaches to the problem.

On one side, the Senate Education Committee has approved Senate Bill 321. As it was written originally, the bill would have established a new method for distributing the funds to cover those students’ expenses. But the committee came up with a new version that would instead add money to those funds by taking it from School Aid Formula money not needed because of declining enrollment in West Virginia schools.

“The intent is to actually capture the money that is generated from the decrease in student enrollment each year,” Hank Hager, counsel to the committee, said. “But we’ve structured it under a formula that would prevent the Department of Education actually from redoing the comps twice, which I understand might take them an extra couple of weeks. So the formula is basically based on a reduction in that enrollment multiplied by the average net state aid per pupil for the preceding school year. But not all of those funds would be necessary in order to satisfy the requirements from the county boards’ requests. So there’s a qualifier in here that the amount that’s to be added to that appropriation is basically limited to the amount that is necessary the previous school year.”

That change would seem to make it more likely that districts would receive full reimbursement for the costs of the high-acuity students. In past years, the funding has filled only part of the requests from districts. For example, in 2013, districts received only 54 percent of their requested funding. In 2014, they received only 46 percent of their requested funding. In 2015, the distribution changed so that it wasn’t a uniform percentage to all counties. The funding that year ranged from 57 percent to 60 percent of the requested amounts.

The Senate Education Committee approved Senate Bill 321 and sent it to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.

House bill is different.

A similar bill made similar progress in the House of Delegates this week. The House Education Committee approved House Bill 2202 and sent it to the House Finance Committee.

Like Senate Bill 321, it is designed to provide a more equitable disbursement of funds to county school boards to lessen the high costs of serving high-acuity special needs students. But it does not attempt to re-appropriate any savings from the reduction in enrollment statewide.

Dave Mohr, counsel for the House Education Committee, explained that the code governing the funding for the high-acuity students was established in 2008 as part of major revisions in the School Aid Formula. Some counties had enough high-cost, high-acuity students that they made up larger-than-average portions of the districts’ enrollment, he said.

At that time, Tyler County had the biggest problem, Mohr said, but now, Hampshire County has the biggest problem – bigger than Tyler County had in 2008.

The law was set up so that any available federal funds would be used first, and then state funding would fill in the rest, he said. The federal definition for those students always has been any student whose costs exceed three times that of the average student, he said.

The legislature took another look at the issue a couple of years ago. Mohr said that was prompted by discussions about the effects Hampshire County was experiencing from being home to the Potomac Center, a private organization that serves children and adults with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

“Now, in some counties, the cost of high-acuity, special-needs students is consuming about 2 percent of the instructional budget,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like a big percentage, but it’s a lot of money when you look at the five or six additional people they could hire for serving the general student population because that money is being consumed by providing special services to those high-cost, high-acuity students.”

House Bill 2202 would ask the Department of Education to put together a state budget that equitably mitigates to the extent possible the effects of providing services to those students so that it doesn’t disproportionately affect providing services to other students, Mohr said. He said the House passed such legislation last year, but the bill died in the Senate.

Before the House Education Committee approved House Bill 2202, Mohr told members about the Senate Education Committee’s alternate approach of taking savings from declining enrollment to put it into fully funding expenses for high-acuity special needs students. He said about $1.5 million is in the governor’s proposed budget for that fund, but another $1.7 million would be needed to fully reimburse counties for their costs.

If the Senate would pass Senate Bill 321 and the House would pass House Bill 2202, the two bodies likely would have to assign a conference committee to reach a compromise.