Legislative News

Overview

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The Thrasher Group

January 25, 2019 - Volume 39 Issue 3

By Jim Wallace

The Senate on Thursday afternoon rolled out what might be the biggest education bill of the legislative session, both in size and wide-ranging effects. It didn’t have a bill number yet, but it has been called the “omnibus education bill” because of how much is rolled up into it.

The bill includes the 5 percent pay raises that Gov. Jim Justice promised for teachers and school service personnel, but it also has many features that many of those workers won’t like – or at least the unions representing them have said they won’t like. It would provide for charter schools, differential pay among teachers, larger class sizes in the elementary grades, and penalties for teachers’ strikes.

The bill also would change funding for schools in several ways, and the Department of Education has not had time yet to prepare a fiscal note on what the costs might be. That bothered Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, when the bill came out Thursday afternoon in the Senate Education Committee.

“There’s a number of moving parts. You’re freezing parts of it in terms of local share. You’re changing the formula in some areas as it relates to that. And those are quite comprehensive.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

“There’s a number of moving parts,” he said. “You’re freezing parts of it in terms of local share. You’re changing the formula in some areas as it relates to that. And those are quite comprehensive.”

One change the bill would make in funding would be to cap local share at the 2015-2016 levels. Hank Hager, counsel to the committee, said, “It’s capped at the 2015-2016 level, so basically it can’t go any higher than it was in 2015-2016.”

That could result in a net increase for 38 counties, he said before backing off on that assertion. But Plymale worried that the cap could hurt some counties in future years. He suggested taking a more gradual approach to changing local share in the School Aid Formula.

When Plymale, who is a former chairman of the Senate Education Committee, asked how charter schools would be funded. Hager said that would be “pretty complicated.”

The bill contains other provisions that would affect what county school boards could do. They include:

  • Giving county school boards the right to increase levy rates to the statutory maximum to drive more revenue for the schools without reducing state aid.
  • Setting minimum enrollment at 1,400 for the School Aid Formula. Currently, counties with fewer than 1,400 students get extra funding to compensate.
  • Eliminating the current calculation for defining what equity is. The equity supplement would remain the same.
  • Allowing county boards to establish new policies on student transfers.
  • Providing that central office administrators, supervisors and directors would serve at the will and pleasure of the superintendent and may be removed by the superintendent upon approval of the county school board.

The bill would have big effects on teachers.

The bill would make even more changes affecting teachers and school service workers. They include:

  • Authorizing county boards to provide funding incentives while no longer requiring salaries to be equal and uniform throughout a county. This is aimed at filling teaching shortages and encouraging better teachers to go to lower-performing schools.
  • Establishing that each classroom teacher providing math instruction in the teacher’s certified area of study for at least 60 percent of the time would move up three steps in the salary schedule.
  • Providing a one-time bonus for a teacher in a math position who takes a specialized mathematics course and teaches in the certified area of study for at least 60 percent of the time. This is similar to what was included in the governor’s bill.
  • Allowing school boards to boost salaries for teacher mentors, or coaches, who participate in induction programs.
  • Allowing county boards to establish policies to base reduction-in-force decisions on more than seniority.
  • Increasing the student-teacher ratio in grades one through six from 25 to 28. Currently, under certain circumstances, the ratio can be increased by three. So this would effectively increase the maximum class size to 31. Teachers now get paid for each child above 25, and they still would get additional compensation for each child above 25.
  • Allowing members in the Teachers Retirement System to convert 10 days of banked sick leave for one month of coverage from the Public Employees Insurance Agency upon retirement, which is meant to incentivize teacher attendance.
  • Requiring teachers to earn leave time as they go through the year instead of having 15 days available at the beginning of the year.
  • Providing a tax credit of up to $250 for classroom teachers for qualifying educational expenses, including computer equipment, education-related software and services, textbooks, workbooks, curricula and other items.
  • Establishing that a teacher’s recommendation on whether a student should be promoted to the next grade level should be the primary consideration when making that determination.
  • Broadening the definition of professional student support personnel to include those who provide direct social and emotional support services to students, such as social workers and psychologists
  • Increasing Step 5 funding in the School Aid Formula by almost $25 million for professional student support personnel.

One year after teachers staged a nine-day statewide strike to get higher pay and less expensive health care coverage, a few other provisions of the bill seem to be directed against teachers’ unions. For example, in case of a work stoppage or strike, teacher pay would be withheld. Only if a teacher’s 200-day contract is fulfilled later by making up any missed days would the teacher’s pay be restored. If the county would have any money left over, it would have to be remitted to the Department of Education. Also, if a day originally scheduled for instruction at a school is cancelled, the school would not be allowed to participate in any interscholastic athletic events during any part of that day.

Another provision would make it a bit more burdensome for unions of teachers and school service workers to hold onto their members. It would prohibit county boards from withholding any amount of an employee’s wages for paying dues to employee organizations unless the employee has requested it within the last year. In other words, the permission to withhold the payment would not automatically roll over each year; each employee would have to ask annually to keep it going.

Charter schools are a big part of the bill.

Many of the bill’s provisions are designed to authorize the creation of public charter schools. Those provisions include:

  • Establishing provisions for a public charter school governing board.
  • Establishing how to determine enrollment in a public charter school.
  • Establishing requirements for applying to set up a public charter school.
  • Establishing requirements for a public charter school contract.
  • Providing that authorizers of charter schools could include: a county board, two or more county boards, any West Virginia public or private institution of higher education, or the West Virginia Public Charter School Commission (only for certain low-performing school districts).
  • Establishing the duties and responsibilities of authorizers.
  • Providing for the renewal or revocation of charter school contracts.
  • Providing a right to appeal to the Public Charter School Commission, which would serve mainly as an appeal board, but it also could serve as an authorizer in the case of low-performing school districts.
  • Providing that the commission would include: the state superintendent, the Higher Education Policy Commission chancellor or designee, the chancellor for the community and technical college system or designee, two members appointed by the governor (with consent of Senate), three appointed by Senate president with one recommended by members of minority party, and three appointed by the House speaker with one recommended by members of minority party.
  • Providing for virtual public charter schools.
  • Giving a charter school the options of participating in PEIA coverage and in coverage by the Board of Risk and Insurance Management.

At least two senators expressed confusion about the charter school provisions.

“That’s not my concept of a charter school.” – Sen. Rollan Roberts

“What I’m seeing in this and what I’m hearing, I’ve never defined it as a charter school,” Sen. Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, said, adding that it refers to using innovation for counties to address problems. “That’s not my concept of a charter school.”

Hager replied that by calling them charter schools in statute, they are eligible for federal funding.

“What this is is unique to West Virginia for our own purposes and needs,” Roberts said. “It is not what out would typically think of – at least not myself – as a charter school.”

That led Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, to ask, “Do I understand this right: We’re calling it a charter school so we can qualify for federal dollars that are meant for charter schools, but this is really not a charter school?” He added, “To me, that’s kind of false pretenses.”

Hager said, “In statute, you have to call it a charter school to be eligible for certain federal funding.”

“I think we’re going down a very dangerous path here,” Unger responded.

Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, then said the charter schools created by the bill really would be charter schools. She said West Virginia already has had schools, such as Mountaineer Challenge Academy and schools with innovation grants, operating like charter schools without being called that. She said the bill would just give counties more opportunity to have charter schools.

Another provision of the bill would establish education savings accounts capped at a level set by the legislature.

The bill also has a non-severability provision. That means if the bill becomes law and anything in it is held to be invalid, the rest of it would be held to be invalid. In other words, all of it would have to stand or none of it would.

Earlier on Thursday, a few senators addressed the yet-to-be-revealed bill in speeches on the Senate floor. Sen. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, who previously served on the Logan County Board of Education, said he put these words on the school board’s wall: “Our decisions impact children.” He said that legislators’ decisions affect not only children but also teachers, service personnel, cooks, bus drivers, custodians, special needs aides and administrators. Then he said he has real concerns about the omnibus education bill.

“You cannot change the complexion of education in one fell swoop.” – Sen. Paul Hardesty

“You cannot change the complexion of education in one fell swoop,” Hardesty warned. “It is impossible.”

Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, said he agreed that it can’t be done in one fell swoop, but the state has been destitute for quite a while, and legislators must do something about that.

“We have incredible school choice in West Virginia if you can afford the right ZIP code,” he said. Otherwise, he said, West Virginia has been failing its kids.

“We have a system that does not let them to reach their potential,” Tarr said, adding that the need for remedial classes at colleges and universities makes that evident. “It’s time to take choice away from what ZIP code you can afford and have it available for everyone.”

The Senate Education Committee was scheduled to resume its examination of the omnibus education bill today.

By Jim Wallace

The House Finance Committee has approved a resolution to put a constitutional amendment before voters to eliminate a form of property tax that has been cited as a hindrance for economic development but also an important form of revenue for schools and other local government.

House Joint Resolution 17 would drop from the West Virginia Constitution the requirement to tax tangible inventory, machinery and equipment personal property directly used in business activities.

The committee approved the resolution on a voice vote with several nays heard. Before the vote, two Democrats spoke against it and one Republican spoke in favor of it.

“This is a tax that no one particularly likes or particularly likes to pay,” Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, said. “The issue is that this is the tax that our local governments, in particular our school system, is dependent upon.”

Legislators have had many discussions over the years about doing away with the tax, but they have been unable to agree on how to replace the revenue, he said.

“This is an elegant attempt to do an end-around that process and come up with a viable solution,” Bates said, because it would remove from the Constitution a protection that is currently in place. It was placed in there for a reason out of concern a rogue legislature would cut taxes, he said.

“I’m genuinely concerned that this is the first step of a two-step process and that a future legislature – be it under the control of either party – will use this newly created authority to wreak havoc on out local school systems.” – Delegate Mick Bates

“We’re pretty good at cutting taxes around here, particularly when they don’t impact on our budget,” Bates said. “So I’m genuinely concerned that this is the first step of a two-step process and that a future legislature – be it under the control of either party – will use this newly created authority to wreak havoc on our local school systems.”

Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, also opposed the resolution and predicted it would die on the House floor. He said he didn’t want to leave to a future legislature the task of figuring out how to make up the revenue that would be lost.

“I believe we have the responsibility as the legislature, if we’re going to do this, to actually instate an entire plan, not half a bite of an apple,” Sponaugle said.

Speaking in favor of the resolution, Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, said the taxation of equipment, machinery and inventory makes West Virginia very uncompetitive and effectively locks jobs out of West Virginia.

“This is the first important step to untying the hands of future legislators.” – Delegate Jim Butler

“This is the first important step to untying the hands of future legislators,” Butler said. “I’ll take a little bit of offense to the term ‘rogue legislature’ because we are duly elected by the people we represent.”

Before they voted, committee members asked Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow about the effects the proposed change would cause. He said the biggest recipient of property tax revenues is education, followed by county government and then municipalities. However, he said, in the School Aid Formula, the state guarantees a set amount of funding per student in all counties. If county revenues cannot meet the funding level, the state will make up the difference with state funds, he said, so about 36 percent to 37 percent of that funding for education is state treasury dollars, but it varies by county and depends on excess levies.

“For example, Pendleton County has no excess levy, so the effect on Pendleton County schools is going to be very small, whereas it might be different in Cabell County, where they have all kinds of excess levies,” Muchow said.

Of the tax revenue that would be eliminated, he said, revenue from inventory statewide is about 27 percent to 28 percent of the total, and the rest is machinery and equipment – both industrial and commercial. The maximum total loss in revenue would be $250 million to $300 million out of the $1.7 billion in total property tax revenue, he said.

The amendment would pull the requirement for taxing inventory, machinery and equipment out of the West Virginia Constitution, Muchow said. West Virginia is unusual in having such a constitutional provision, he said, because most states handle property taxes through general law, not their constitutions.

Asked again what effect the proposed change could have on funding public schools, Muchow said, “The state is responsible for whatever is called for in the state School Aid Formula. It would greatly cushion the impact on county boards.”

About seven states tax business inventory, he said, while about 20 states tax personal property. Muchow gave this summary of how West Virginia’s neighboring states handle such taxes:

  • Pennsylvania taxes purely real estate, not machinery, equipment or inventory.
  • Ohio formerly taxed machinery, equipment and inventory, but that tax was removed in the last 10 to 15 years. Ohio now taxes just real estate, except in regard to utilities.
  • Kentucky has a broad-based tax like West Virginia’s, but real tax rates are higher than personal property tax rates. Personal property tax rates in Kentucky are roughly equivalent to what they would be if the property were valued at the salvage level. They are very low in relationship to West Virginia’s. But Kentucky does tax inventory, machinery and equipment.
  • Virginia taxes machinery and equipment but not so much inventory.
  • Maryland might have a little bit of tax on the categories at issue, but it taxes mostly real estate.

The resolution now must get through the House Judiciary Committee before it can go to the full House of Delegates.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate has given unanimous approval for a bill designed to improve access to education at West Virginia’s community and technical colleges but with implications for West Virginia’s public education system, too. Despite the Senate’s strong endorsement, the bill faces an uncertain future in the House of Delegates.

Last year, the Senate approved a similar bill, but it went nowhere in the House. This year, one member of the House, Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, already has denounced it as an “entitlement.” That could be his first shot against the bill’s strongest supporter, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson. Butler announced this week that he intends to challenge Carmichael for his Senate seat in 2020.

Before the Senate voted, Senate Finance Committee Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, expressed hope that this year’s bill will be received better in the House than last year’s bill. “It’s not an entitlement in any way,” he said. “It’s an investment in the people of West Virginia. It’s a big deal.”

Likewise, after the Senate passed the bill, Carmichael called it an investment in the people and refuted Butler’s charge. “Anyone who wants to construe this as an entitlement is ignorant and uninformed,” he said. “It cannot be the case.”

Newly appointed Sen. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan – formerly president of the Logan County Board of Education – supported Carmichael on that matter.

“I’ve heard others say it’s an entitlement program,” Hardesty said. “I cannot fathom how there’s a correlation between this bill and an entitlement. This is an investment in the youth of this state. This is a chance to change the status quo, to put poor people on the path to prosperity.”

The cost of the bill is estimated to be $7.5 million. It includes requirements for students to agree to drug testing, community service and working in West Virginia for at least two years to keep from having to pay back the state’s money.

The main provision of the bill is to relieve students of the cost of tuition at colleges where they could earn associate degrees and get job training, but it also calls for the creation of advanced career education (ACE) programs through partnerships between public secondary schools and community and technical colleges. One purpose of the bill is to establish “clear and efficient pathways that begin in high school and lead to obtaining advanced certifications and associate degrees.” The idea is to increase the number of students who ultimately obtain post-secondary credentials or degrees.

Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said he would like to do even more to tie together vocational education efforts throughout public education and higher education.

“We have to have all these things working together to get where we need to be on workforce participation,” he said. “This is a good first step, and I look forward to working with you on the next ones.”

Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said, “The goal of this bill is to expand opportunities and getting West Virginians into jobs, and not just any jobs but high-paying jobs.”

Before Senate Bill 1 came up for its final vote, Senate Democrats tried hard to make changes in the bill. Despite their lack of success, they joined Republicans in supporting it in the end.

“I stand in support of Senate Bill 1,” Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said one day after leading the attempt to make changes in the bill. “I truly believe the education system we have is the foundation of this country.”

Prezioso and his fellow Democrats had hoped to change the bill to extend the provisions of the tuition help to four-year institutions that have associate degree programs. But Republicans argued against increasing the cost of the bill and perhaps jeopardizing its chances in the House.

“We can all destroy a great idea by adding to it,” Carmichael said during the debate. “Too much of a good thing eventually collapses under its own weight.”

Prezioso didn’t accept that argument. “I resent the idea that we’re going to offend the House by sending over a fiscal note that might be double at best,” he said. “I didn’t hear one person say they were against the amendment we offered.”

The Senate voted 14 to 20 along party lines to reject Prezioso’s amendment, which set up the final vote on the bill in the Senate.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has turned over a vocational education bill to a subcommittee with plans for the full committee to take it up again on Wednesday.

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

The bill would require the development of guidelines for schools to use in cooperation with local school improvement councils and business partners for communicating to students what skills and attributes they need to be ready to enter the workforce. Information would have to be readily accessible to students, as well as their parents, within the career-and-technical education cluster and major programs of study about the programs at community and technical colleges that are aligned with their high school programs and lead to industry-recognized credentials, certificates of applied science and associate degrees.

Schools also would have to provide information on apprenticeship and occupational licensing requirements for which students already might have gained credit through programs at the secondary school level. Along with that, the bill would require such students to receive transcripts from post-secondary institutions from which they have earned dual credit.

In addition, the bill would attempt to strengthen the integration between career-and-technical education programs in public schools and programs at community and technical colleges that lead to high-demand, high-wage jobs. It also would require identification of which competencies that students already have gained would count toward getting occupational licenses.

The state superintendent of schools and the chancellor of the community and technical college system would have joint responsibility for approving written partnerships and reporting on their implementation to the legislature and the governor.

After several Democrats offered an amendment to codify the existing Governor’s Workforce Credentials program, House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, decided to send the bill to a five-member subcommittee to work out that and other issues. Delegate Patrick Martin, R-Lewis, is chairman of the subcommittee. Other members include: Caleb Hanna, R-Webster; Rolland Jennings, R-Preston; Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell; and Amanda Estep-Burton, D-Kanawha.

The subcommittee is expected to report back to the full committee next Wednesday, when the committee is to resume work on House Bill 2004.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has given unanimous approval to a bill on assessing the college- and career-readiness of students in the 11th and 12th grades.

House Bill 2095 would relieve a student placed in a transitional education program as a high school senior from having to retake a college-and career-readiness examination or similar assessment of readiness if that student already has taken the examination or assessment as a junior.

House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, told his colleagues the bill would permit higher education institutions to use other information on academic achievement and readiness, along with high school assessment data, for appropriate placement in college courses.

“The bill allows colleges and universities to look at multiple measures for placement and reduces repetitive testing,” he said.

The House vote on the bill was 100 to zero.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates is trying again to set up a pilot program for mastery-based education. A bill the House passed last year failed to get through the legislative process. This year’s bill, House Bill 2009, was in position to pass in the House as early as today.

The bill would allow up to 20 schools to establish mastery-based education programs, which would concentrate on having students master the content in their classes rather than just receive at least the minimum grade required to pass those courses. The bill would create a special category for grants in the Innovation in Education program. The state school board would be required to set up an advisory committee to choose among applications from schools wanting to participate in the pilot program.

The idea behind mastery-based education is twofold. One purpose is to reduce the skill deficits that students accumulate when they progress through subject matter without mastering it. The other purpose is to empower students to move on to more challenging material more quickly once they have achieved mastery.

At least one school in West Virginia already has established a mastery-based education program by taking advantage of an Innovation in Education grant. The Explorer Academy in the old Hollywood Middle School in Cabell County has been doing what it calls “expeditionary learning.”

Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, said he has a personal interest in seeing the bill become law. “As a school principal, I definitely see the value of this,” he said. “I was really excited when we passed this last year, hoping maybe my school would be one of those lucky 20 schools.”

“It gives you a lot more hands-on approach and a lot more practical education.” – Delegate Mark Dean

Dean said the Explorer Academy in Cabell County is a good model for what can be done. “It gives you a lot more hands-on approach and a lot more practical education,” he said. Mastery-based education also helps students understand why they should learn something, he said.

 

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved a bill to require computer science instruction in all public schools.

House Bill 2415 would require the state school board prior to the 2020-2021 school year to adopt a policy specifying the appropriate level of computer science instruction available to students at each level. It also would require the Department of Education to develop and offer professional development opportunities to ensure that teachers have the skills they need for computer science instruction. The department would be allowed to partner with “high-quality computer science professional learning providers” in offering such instruction.

The bill was requested by Gov. Jim Justice. House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, spoke with the governor about it and said, “The intent of the bill is to mostly increase the availability of computer science programs in our high schools and even down to middle schools, which is more on the hardware-construction side of things and then into the coding and higher-level instruction above what typically now just a computer class does.”

Officials hope it leads to partnerships with businesses that would donate components of computer systems, he said. In regard to professional development, he said, Code.org and other organizations provide curricula and training for teachers prior to the school year.

Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the committee, said the bill has no fiscal note, but is referred to House Finance out of caution. He said the School Aid Formula provides about $24.6 million annually for computer instruction, so funding should not be a problem.

In the elementary grades, the instruction could include logical thinking and problem solving, Mohr said. Deputy Supt. Clayton Burch of the Education Department said computer science is handled differently from school to school.

“Computer science is actually right now required to be offered in every high school. The level of computer science varies. Some tackle computer science that is actually integrated with math. Some tackle computer science integrated with science.” – Clayton Burch

“Computer science is actually right now required to be offered in every high school,” he said. “The level of computer science varies. Some tackle computer science that is actually integrated with math. Some tackle computer science integrated with science.”

Some high schools even offer advanced placement computer science courses using either a teacher in the classroom or a connection to a virtual AP course, he said.

Burch explained further that the state school board’s Policy 2520.14 addresses computer science standards for kindergarten through 12th grade. The policy handles computer science and technology integration very broadly, he said. They are stackable skillsets, he said, so that by the time students get to middle school, they do keyboarding.

The Education Department wants to use this bill to expand what is offered in middle school, Burch said. The goal is to no longer offer just computer science courses in high school but to take advantage of more specific computer science programming, such as cyber security, he said.

Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, expressed concern about the number of teachers certified to teach computer science. Burch responded, “That’s another reason this bill is actually important because our teachers are not all trained on what computer science integration looks like.”

Elementary-level teachers need more training on that, he said. At the middle school and high school levels, more teachers need computer science certification, Burch said, and the department wants to reconsider what that certification looks like.

Delegate Robert Thompson, D-Wayne, called the bill “an excellent idea” because students uses computers in many classes every day. As a social studies teacher, he said, that’s what happens in his classes.

“We think about young kids as being technology natives,” Thompson said. “They know how to use [computers]. Well, they know to use the internet, and they know how to use their phone. In the beginning of the year, I spend a lot of time teaching kids how to format documents, how to save them where they can find them later on, how to open documents. So there are a lot of necessary skills that kids just don’t know how to do.”

House Bill 2415 has gone to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.

By Jim Wallace

State colleges and universities with teacher education programs, as well as the state board of education, have come under fire for teacher shortages in West Virginia’s public schools.

“For as many teacher colleges as we have in the state, we’re not getting the numbers we need to fill the vacancies that we have in our schools in several of these areas.” – Michele Blatt

“If we don’t find a way to quickly prepare and certify our teachers in the content they’re teaching our students, then we’re not going to be able to improve the math achievement of our students,” Michelle Blatt, assistant superintendent in the Education Department’s Division of Support and Accountability, told members of the Senate Education Committee. “For as many teacher colleges as we have in the state, we’re not getting the numbers we need to fill the vacancies that we have in our schools in several of these areas.”

Blatt made those comments after presenting a report prepared by the department’s Office of Certification and Professional Preparation showing where school districts have classes with teachers not fully certified in the content of those classes. She said that report is the reason math instruction is the department’s top priority this year, although there are shortages in many other classes.

But while Blatt laid blame on higher education, Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, put blame on members of the state school board.

“I think the board is not telling the truth on this,” he said. “They said that they were going to take on teacher preparation programs in a manner that was the way that they should.”

That hasn’t happened yet, he said. Plymale, who served as chairman of the Senate Education Committee for several years when Democrats still held the majority in the Senate, added, “Part of our problem is: Our teacher preparation programs are not preparing teachers to go into the classroom to be able to immediately teach.”

Blatt told Plymale that among the steps the state board and the department are considering is for students in teacher education programs to spend their senior year in year-long internships in the schools. She said they also have spoken with higher education about imbedding the instructional strategies, or the pedagogies of teaching, into the content of college courses. For example, she said, instead of separate classes on algebra and how to teach algebra, they would be combined into one.

But Plymale suggested that the department might not be using the best methods for determining the effectiveness of teachers. He said the praxis tests they take don’t necessarily reveal that.

“Someone that’s good at math isn’t necessarily a good teacher,” Plymale said. “As a matter of fact, some of the best teachers I had in math were not very good at math, and they struggled.”

West Virginia might not need all the teacher preparation programs it has at state colleges and universities, he said. For example, he noted, Finland reduced the number of teacher preparation programs it has from nine to five and made sure they were highly effective.

“We got to be a little tough, and this is the board’s responsibility.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

“We got to be a little tough, and this is the board’s responsibility,” Plymale said. “We need to have the board members over here talking to us and telling us what they’re doing.”

Blatt noted that certain teacher training programs are being dropped at state colleges and universities. Plymale said that is because the state has cut funding to higher education in recent years. He said he would look forward to reading the state board’s new policy on teacher training programs.

Blatt said the board and department are looking at a “blended model” for teachers who are not fully certified for the courses they teach to get the content they need online and connect them with master teachers in the field. They could get a stipend for completing their coursework, she said. The department hopes to have that ready for the fall, she said.

When Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, asked what the single biggest issue is with filling teaching positions, Blatt said there is not a single issue. She always thought salary was the biggest issue, she said, but some teachers have said having time to prepare lessons for their students also is very important. She added that teachers are facing many social and emotional issues with students today.

In regard to the shortage of math teachers, Blatt said, they generally are not in the higher-level classes like calculus and trigonometry because only about 1 percent of those classes lack fully certified teachers. “So we’re really struggling with those basic math classes that all of our students need to take,” she said.

When Romano asked if charter schools and education savings accounts, which Republicans are pushing this year, would just pull money out of the schools, hurting their efforts to have fully certified teachers, Blatt said that would depend on how the legislation is crafted.

The House of Delegates has approved House Bill 2422, which would allow each county board of education to select when “Celebrate Freedom Week” should be observed. Under current law, schools are expected to observe “Celebrate Freedom Week” during the week when September 11 falls. It is to include instruction on such founding documents as the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

“Some of us felt then that September 11 was too quick in the school year, too early in the school year, for everything to be settled down and teach something like this.” – Delegate Roy Cooper

Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, said the bill would address misgivings some legislators had about the law when they worked on it last year. “Some of us felt then that September 11 was too quick in the school year, too early in the school year, for everything to be settled down and teach something like this,” he said. Such instruction would fit better around Veterans Day in November, he said.

House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, said federal law requires the teaching of the same documents at a different time of year, so this year’s bill would prevent requiring schools to go over the same material twice in the school year.

Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, also endorsed the bill as a good way to give more control back to educators at the local level.

The House Education Committee made one change in the bill before passing it and sending it to the full House of Delegates. Members accepted an amendment from Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, to add the Emancipation Proclamation to the list of documents to be studied during “Celebrate Freedom Week.”

The House approved the amended version of the bill on a vote of 98 to zero.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved a pair of bills designed to make sure that any teacher or other public school employee convicted of an offense requiring registration as a sex offender or involving distribution of a controlled substance would not be allowed to continue working in public schools. In addition, the full House of Delegates has passed another bill designed to keep sex offenders away from children.

The original version of House Bill 2378 would have expanded the automatic revocation of a teaching license for anyone convicted of a criminal offense that requires registration as a sex offender. But some committee members thought that would not go far enough, so the issue was assigned to a subcommittee, which came up with an expanded version of the bill, as well as a companion bill.

One change made in House Bill 2378 would define “teacher” more broadly to include supervisors, superintendents, principals, public school librarians and anyone else employed for instructional purposes in a public school. Another change would add the automatic revocation of a license for anyone who has distributed a controlled substance.

“I think we took a good-intentioned bill and made a better bill,” the subcommittee’s chairman, Delegate Steve Westfall, R-Jackson, said.

The second bill would to provide for automatic termination of the service personnel employment contract or bus operators’ certificate for anyone convicted of any offense requiring registration as a sex offender or involving distribution of a controlled substance.

“I think this takes care of all the issues we have with anybody pretty much working in the public schools.” – Delegate Steve Westfall

“I think this takes care of all the issues we have with anybody pretty much working in the public schools,” Westfall said.

The Education Committee approved both bills and sent them to the House Judiciary Committee.

The full House of Delegates has approved House Bill 2423, which would prohibit certain sex offenders on supervisory release from overseeing children. It would apply to people convicted of first-degree sexual assault or abuse, such as rape leading to injury, rape with a weapon or rape of minors under age 12.

The bill would prohibit such people from supervising such groups as “Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4H organizations, sporting and scholastic teams, music, sporting and theatre groups and camps, and summer day camps.”

The House approved the bill on a vote of 100 to zero. It now goes to the Senate.

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.