Legislative News

Overview

Inside

The Thrasher Group

February 8, 2019 - Volume 39 Issue 5

West Virginia School Board Association Executive Director Howard M. O’Cull, Ed.D., announces MetroNews Talkline Host Hoppy Kercheval and Huntington Mayor Steve Williams will be keynote speakers at WVSBA’s Winter Conference next weekend.

The conference will be held at the Marriott Town Center Hotel, Charleston. It commences at 1:00 p.m., Friday, Feb. 15 and will adjourn by not later than 11:45 a.m., Saturday, Feb. 16.

He also announced state education officials may participate if schedules permit.

Conference topics include issues relating to student mathematics proficiency, absenteeism, county board members’ roles and responsibilities and the announcement of an advocacy initiative which involves a Brown University professor who specializes in grassroots networking and involvement. O’Cull said one conference segment will be devoted to a round-table discussion regarding how to strengthen community and constituency linkages.

Williams will discuss how community agencies, organizations, the faith community can collaborate to address issues affecting citizens, including students.  

WVSBA Conference Registrar Shirley Davidson said 205 persons had registered for the conference

 

By Jim Wallace

The huge, omnibus education bill, Senate Bill 451, has slowed down, changed and shrunk since the Senate passed it Monday and sent it to the House of Delegates.

Not only has the House Education Committee been taking plenty of time to go through the bill methodically and ask questions about it, but the House has scheduled a public hearing on it for Monday morning at eight o’clock in the House chamber. House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, requested the hearing.

West Virginia School Board Association (WVSBA)  President Lori E. Kestner (Marshall) will speak on behalf of the association at the 8:00 a.m. public hearing, according to WVSBA Executive Director Howard M. O’Cull, Ed.D. (A later hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m., based on various news media accounts in order to accommodate teachers.) “in terms of this hearing Delegates wish to hear from local officials. President Kestner will provide a county board association view of this legislation,” he said. O’Cull noted WVSBA President-Elect Ryan White (Kanawha) as well as himself and Carrie Clendening have been involved in following and working with legislators regarding the legislation.  The association has contracted with Clendening to provide general lobbying services, according to O’Cull.

“We said from the start of our deliberations that we would accept input from all sides in this process, and that includes hearing from our teachers, students, parents and administrators.” – Speaker Roger Hanshaw

“We said from the start of our deliberations that we would accept input from all sides in this process, and that includes hearing from our teachers, students, parents and administrators,” Hanshaw said in a statement he released Thursday. “A public hearing will allow our citizens, and all those affected by this bill, the opportunity to have their voices heard.”

One of the first actions the House Education Committee took was to substitute its own version of the bill in place of the version the Senate passed on Monday. The new version stripped out or altered several of the most controversial provisions of the bill. For example, it removed the non-severability clause and the so-called paycheck protection provision, capped the number of charter schools at six (which it changed again Thursday evening), removed the provision for virtual charter schools, and limited education savings accounts to 2,500 students with special needs.

The non-severability clause would have trashed all provisions in the bill, including promised pay raises for teachers and school service personnel, if court action would reject any single provision of the bill. It is more common for a bill to have a severability clause, which allows most of the bill’s provisions to survive even if one is thrown out by a court.

The so-called payroll protection provision would have prevented school employees’ authorization to have union dues deducted from their paychecks from rolling over automatically from one year to the next. To keep the dues payments flowing, the employees would have to reauthorize the deductions each year. That was one of the anti-labor provisions, as many people saw it, that Senate leaders put into the bill in retaliation for last year’s nine-day, statewide teachers’ strike.

The House Education Committee also changed another provision seen as anti-labor. It would have withheld wages during a work stoppage but was changed to allow for those wages to be repaid once school days are made up.

“It’s addressing many of the concerns I’ve heard about.” – Delegate Paul Espinosa

As House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, told his colleagues in the House about the revised version, “It’s addressing many of the concerns I’ve heard about.”

Bill changed again Thursday evening.

Thursday evening, after the House Education Committee had heard hours of testimony in the morning and again in the evening, it came out with another revised version of the bill. This one is 125 pages long – about 20 pages smaller than the original version introduced in the Senate – and likely will be even shorter by the time the committee’s senior policy analyst, Dave Mohr, finishes editing it.

As explained by the Mohr, the new version has two main changes. One is new language about raising tax levies, specifying that county school boards could increase levy rates but only by taking such increases to votes of the people. The Senate’s original version would have allowed boards to raise levy rates without going through public elections.

The other main change is that charter schools would be allowed only in a pilot program limited to one low-performing elementary school in Cabell County and one in Kanawha County. Each would have to be eligible for federal Title I funding. The wording doesn’t specify the names of those schools, but House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, explained that his intention is for them to be Spring Hill Elementary School in Huntington and Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary School in Charleston. He said he had spoken with certain community leaders from Charleston’s West Side about that new provision, but not with anyone from Cabell County.

For a charter school to be created in either of those locations, a group primarily made up of parents in the community would have to form a 501(c)(3) organization to convert the school to a public charter school. The group could work with partner organizations. The county school board would serve as the authorizer for the charter school, and the school would be required to enroll all students within its attendance area who want to attend. The school would have a board made up of two parents of students at the school, two community members, two faculty members, two representatives of the county school board and one representative of the state superintendent.

That new provision took members of the committee from Cabell County and Kanawha County by surprise, so they had many questions about it. For example, Delegate Amanda Estep-Burton, D-Kanawha, wondered how converting Mary C. Snow West Side Elementary into a public charter school would help it. “I wonder what it would be like if we totally funded the school that is there,” she said. Hamrick said the conversion could allow the school to customize its curriculum.

The version of the bill passed Monday by the Senate would have allowed an unlimited number of charter schools. That was narrowed down to just six in an earlier House version before the latest version limited it to two.

The new version of the bill came in the last hour of about five hours of meetings the House Education Committee held on and off Thursday beginning a few minutes after nine o’clock in the morning and ending exactly at 10 o’clock in the evening.

Earlier in the evening, many of the questions committee members had were about education savings accounts. For example, Delegate Patrick Martin, R-Lewis, wondered what would prevent parents from misusing the money if they chose to use education savings accounts to fund their children’s education. He suggested the possibility of a parent using ESA money to buy a computer and then reselling the computer.

Rachelle Engen, an advocate of ESAs for the Institute for Justice, a libertarian organization that promotes school choice among other causes, testified that Senate Bill 451 would leave much discretion to the state treasurer in implementing rules to prevent fraud. She said a study of education savings accounts in Arizona showed less than 0.5 percent misuse. That’s not necessarily fraud, she said, because it could have included record-keeping mistakes.

In addition, Engen said, Senate Bill 451 would provide for auditing of ESA accounts. Since the number of ESA accounts would be capped at 2,500, the chances that someone would be audited would be better than if more ESAs were allowed, she said.

“Once the money is given to the parent, it is no longer the state money. It is no longer the Department of Education money.” – Rachelle Engen

“These funds are being given to the parents, and then the parents are then using these funds to purchase curriculum or materials that they think are the best for their children’s education,” Engen said. “So once the money is given to the parent, it is no longer the state money. It is no longer the Department of Education money.”

The bill would provide for funding students on ESAs at 75 percent of the level of public school students, she added.

A poll in Arizona showed 71 percent of parents who used ESAs were extremely satisfied, Engen said, and none reported any level of dissatisfaction.

On the other side of the issue, Christy Black, the mother of a student with Down’s syndrome, said she was concerned about whether students with special needs would receive the services they need through use of education savings accounts. She said she would have to give up her daughter’s due process rights if she switched to using an ESA, and an ESA wouldn’t come close to covering all the services her daughter needs.

Earlier in the day, committee members had many questions for representatives of the Department of Education and others about the effects of Senate Bill 451 – not all of which could be answered.

“This is being billed as a comprehensive education reform bill. Is there anything in it that increases student performance?” – Delegate Jeff Campbell

“This is being billed as a comprehensive education reform bill,” Delegate Jeff Campbell, D-Greenbrier, said. “Is there anything in it that increases student performance?”

Campbell, who is a teacher, also asked if the bill would do anything to maximize instructional time, improve student assessment measures or improve programs and funding for special education. But Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, suggested those questions were improper. “I don’t object to the questions, but I do think they ask for opinion,” he said. Representatives of the Education Department and legislative staff attorneys are prohibited from offering their own opinions about legislation and limited to testifying factually about legislation or current policy.

Other questions committee members had were about how proposed charter schools would work and how they would differ from schools with innovation zones, which state law already provides for.

Bill received rough greeting in House.

Well before the House Education Committee began considering Senate Bill 451, several delegates expressed opinions about it on the floor of the House of Delegates. One of the strongest denunciations of the bill came on Tuesday from Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, who said he had heard from many teachers and school service workers who “don’t trust the legislature.” He said he had received hundreds of emails and phone calls referring to the bill as “Mitch’s retaliation bill,” a reference to Senate President Mitch Carmichael, a leading advocate of the bill. Sponaugle criticized the way the bill “was slammed through the Senate” and sent to the House.

“So, the Senate has basically poured gasoline out on our public education system, and the House of Delegates has basically…two options on how we’re going to proceed throughout the rest of the session,” he said. “We could strike a match, set it on fire and we can go through what we did last year. Or we could douse it out right now and put it to an end.”

Sponaugle suggested the House should spend its time on a series of individual bills that would cover provisions in Senate Bill 451 rather than that big bill itself. He listed the bills that cover topics in the omnibus education bill:

  • House Bill 2554 on open enrollment;
  • House Bill 2824 on the maximum student-teacher ratio;
  • House Bill 2391 on clarifying job duties and responsibilities of school counselors;
  • House Bill 2433 on modifying the school calendar;
  • House Bill 2766 on teacher input on student promotion;
  • House Bill 2549 and House Bill 2620 on compulsory school attendance;
  • House Bill 2328 and House Bill 2397 on public school support;
  • House Bill 2593 on modifying the county basic foundation;
  • House Bill 2122 on education of exception children;
  • House Bill 2002 on education savings accounts;
  • House Bill 2635 on salary increases for teachers and school service personnel;
  • House Bill 2013 on salary equality among counties and salary supplements for teachers;
  • House Bill 2093 on allowing employment promotion and transfer decisions on professional personnel to be made on qualifications; and
  • House Bill 2639 on making county administrators at-will employees.

Sponaugle noted that no bills at the time he spoke addressed charter schools, but delegates had until the end of the week to introduce bills.

“At the end of the day, this bill is a pig. I don’t care how much lipstick you’re going to put on it. You’re not going to make it any prettier. You’re not going to change the public’s perception of Senate Bill 451.” – Delegate Isaac Sponaugle

“At the end of the day, this bill is a pig,” he said. “I don’t care how much lipstick you’re going to put on it. You’re not going to make it any prettier. You’re not going to change the public’s perception of Senate Bill 451.”

When Sponaugle moved to postpone consideration of the bill indefinitely – in other words, kill it – House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, objected. “On the Senate side, we heard about how this bill was rushed through,” she said. “Now, we have an opportunity to send it to several committees.”

The House voted 52 to 44 to reject the motion to postpone consideration of the bill.

After Hanshaw assigned Senate Bill 451 to the House Education Committee and then the House Finance Committee, Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said he was glad the House would put it through the regular committee process, unlike the Senate, which bypassed the Finance Committee to send the bill to the Committee of the Whole – the entire Senate. He also said the bill should not have so many subjects and suggested the Senate violated the constitutional requirement of having just one subject per bill.

Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, said he had received emails from hundreds of teachers, most of whom opposed Senate Bill 451, but he also had spoken to many educators and parents.

“The parents of this state have no faith in the public education system of this state, and they’ve made that very clear to me.” – Delegate Marshall Wilson

“The parents of this state have no faith in the public education system of this state, and they’ve made that very clear to me,” he said in support of Senate Bill 451. He said the state should provide them with a variety of options because it is “failing miserably” at providing a thorough and efficient education. Wilson added that teachers are not the only stakeholders on this legislation.

Speaking against the bill, Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said, “I have never been more happy than I have not being a state senator as I have in this last week. I’m telling you I have never seen such circus antics play out in the other side of this Capitol as I have seen in the last week.”

Caputo, who has served in the House for 23 years, said it was wrong for the Senate to revert to a Committee of the Whole just because the leaders did not have the necessary votes to get the bill through the Finance Committee.

“What came out of the Senate the other day is nothing more than revenge politics,” he said.

Noting that the title of the bill alone was three-and-a-half pages long, Caputo said the bill was causing turmoil and leading unions representing teachers and school service workers to hold votes that could authorize another strike. In addition, he charged, the bill was crafted to encourage dark money to come into the state to influence elections.

“We’re not going to play the games that the leadership in the Senate played,” Caputo said. “I think that’s important.”

Finally, he suggested the House should break the bill up, letting each part stand or fall on its own merit, and called the non-severability clause “plain wrong.”

But Delegate Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley, denounced such comments as “nothing more than fear-mongering.” He said, “I ran for parents to have the choice on how they wanted to get their kids educated. I didn’t run to protect the professional education class.”

Bibby said the legislature needs to reform public education because people “are speaking with their feet” by abandoning the public schools. Parents are choosing home-schooling or private schools or leaving the state, he said.

“I have more trust in the parents than I do in any educator with a Ph.D. and no matter what follows after their name.” – Delegate Tom Bibby

Countering the criticism that the bill covers too many subjects, Bibby said it has only one object: reforming education in West Virginia. “I’m confident that we’ll come out with a bill that doesn’t just solve it for one particular special interest group,” he said. “But we want a bill that’s going to address all of the citizens of West Virginia and give all of the citizens an opportunity and a say on how they want their children educated. I have more trust in the parents than I do in any educator with a Ph.D. and no matter what follows after their name.”

In addition, Bibby said, his grandfather made a good living with just an eight-grade education, but some people today with doctorate degrees can’t get jobs.

Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, supported the provision to establish charter schools. Forty-four states have charter schools, he said. “Why should our West Virginia children have fewer choices?” he asked.

Wilson indicated that, as far-reaching as Senate Bill 451 is, it still wouldn’t go far enough to suit him. He said parents have asked him “to engage in a complete restructuring of the West Virginia public education system.” They think the rights for parents in Senate Bill 451 are too weak, he said.

“They’re disappointed, but they’re willing to accept this as a first step in the right direction,” Wilson said.

Senate gave bill narrow approval.

The House began considering Senate Bill 451 one day after the Senate approved it on a vote of 18 to 16 with two Republicans voting with all 14 Democrats against it. That vote came after a debate lasting almost two hours and 40 minutes Monday afternoon and much turmoil, including an unusual parliamentary maneuver, over the previous dozen days.

By that time, the bill already had been denounced by many people, ranging from the governor to the state school board to local school board members and leaders of organizations representing teachers, principals and superintendents.

Before Monday afternoon’s vote, 18 of the Senate’s 34 members spoke on the Senate floor about the bill – nine opposed to it and nine in favor of it.

Among those who spoke against it was Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, who compared the bill to Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, in which firefighters were led to believe they were supposed to start fires rather than put them out.

“That’s exactly what this body is trying to do is deceive the people of West Virginia because ultimately there’s not a will here by the leadership to give that pay raise to the teachers and the service personnel that they were promised,” he said. “We can run the governor’s bill clean, as the governor suggested, for the pay raises, and then we can take the rest of this and put it in another bill, if you want to run that. Let’s separate them.”

Unger said the bill disrespects teachers and service personnel because it is an excuse not to give them pay increases. But Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said it not only would provide the 5 percent pay raises promised to teachers and school service personnel, but it would do much more.

“Our schools are not producing the results we want or getting the funding they needed.” – Sen. Patricia Rucker

“Our schools are not producing the results we want or getting the funding they needed,” she said. “We need to stop dictating from Charleston a one-size-fits-all and stop telling them who, what, when, where. Let them decide.”

Rucker contended the bill would take nothing away from public schools but would increase funding in key areas, such as for counselors, nurses and other health professionals, as well as for utilities and deferred maintenance. She said it also would empower school boards by giving them flexibility to pay certain teachers more to fill shortages.

Bill also received much attention last Friday.

In five hours of debate last Friday, the Senate rejected several amendments proposed by Democrats on votes of 16 to 18 with the same two Republicans, Bill Hamilton of Upshur County and Kenny Mann of Monroe County, voting with the Democrats and all other Republicans voting against them.

The Senate also approved an important amendment to change a section of the bill that would have allowed county school boards to raise tax levy rates without a vote of the people. That provision caused unease for many people, including Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, who offered the amendment that would require any increase in levy rates to go to a public vote.

Earlier, the Senate removed another provision that would have allowed maximum class size in elementary grades of as much as 31 students in some cases.

As it came out of the Senate, the bill provided for 5 percent pay raises for teachers and other school workers, as promised by Gov. Jim Justice. But it also was designed to do many other things, including: set the minimum enrollment for the School Aid Formula at 1,400, eliminate the current definition of equity, provide that district central office administrators and others would serve as will-and-pleasure employees, authorize pay incentives for hard-to-fill positions such as math teachers, allow school boards to base reduction-in-force decisions on factors other than seniority, allow teachers to bank leave time for later benefits, provide a tax credit for teachers who use personal funds to buy classroom supplies, expand the definition of professional student support personnel and provide more funding for them, and provide for the establishment of charter schools.

In addition, the Senate-passed version of the bill would discourage future strikes by teachers by withholding pay for missed days, preventing extracurricular activities at schools on days when classes are cancelled and prohibiting an employee’s authorization for union dues to be withheld from paychecks from rolling over automatically from year to year – so-called “paycheck protection.”

In a news release on Monday, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said Senate Bill 451 was designed to increase individual student success, give parents the freedom to choose how their children are educated, and continue to invest in public school teachers.

“This bill fundamentally changes the lives and opportunities for all students and teachers in this state to take us from last place to first place,” he said. “Through no fault of students, teachers, or parents, we have been mired in a system that leaves far too many of our children behind. We have a moral imperative to make West Virginia the best place to raise a family, and I am confident that the measures provided in this bill will unlock the door to opportunity for thousands of our children and parents.”

Two days later, Rucker issued a statement promoting the options the bill would give parents in educating their children.

“Education equals freedom, freedom to be who you want to be, freedom to go where you want to go in this life,” she said. “While getting a quality education is a goal, education is also a process.”

“Get the best product for the people, and make sure that the students, the teachers and the parents are at the table.” – Delegate Sean Hornbuckle

On Monday, before the Senate had sent Senate Bill 451 over to the House, Delegate Sean Hornbuckle asked Speaker Roger Hanshaw to make sure the House would handle the bill differently from how the Senate handled it. “Make sure we take it to the committee process,” he said. “Get the best product for the people, and make sure that the students, the teachers and the parents are at the table.”

Hanshaw later issued a statement promising the House would review the bill “in a deliberate manner” and work to build consensus on how to improve the education system.

“It’s important to remember: We are not satisfied with the status quo,” he added. “Despite the amount of taxpayer money we spend on education, our current system remains ranked near the bottom compared to other states. We believe this can be changed by inspiring innovation in our education system, increasing local control over schools, providing teachers more resources to use in their classrooms, giving teachers more time to teach instead of complying with testing or administrative requirements, improving technology in our classrooms, providing parents with more choices in their child’s education, and changing the one-size-fits-all approach to education that is too often mandated from Charleston.”

When the House Education Committee began its review of Senate Bill 451 on Wednesday, Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, told members, “We’re going to be as slow and deliberate in this as we can.”

Meanwhile, as legislators have been debating the bill and working on what the final version will look like, unions representing teachers and school service workers around the state reportedly have been gathering input from their members on whether to stage another walkout for the second straight year. They were scheduled to meet in Flatwoods on Saturday to total up the votes from around the state.

By Jim Wallace

If many of the proposals in Senate Bill 451, the omnibus education bill, do not get passed in that bill, some of them could get through the legislative process in separate bills. One example of that is House Bill 2554, which was on track to be passed in the House of Delegates as early as today.

The bill, which received approval with a minor change by the House Education Committee on Monday, would modify the transfer and enrollment policies for students in public schools by making it easier for students to transfer from one county to another. The student would have to get permission from the county being transferred into but not necessarily the county the student would transfer out of, which would be a change from current law.

Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the Department of Education, explained that current law requires two counties to agree to each transfer. If one county does not agree, the case can be appealed to the state superintendent, she said. House Bill 2554 would eliminate that level and streamline the process, she said.

“As to whether that is a good situation or bad situation is probably in the eyes of the beholder, probably being the county affected,” Hutchins said.

The bill would require counties to have policies on transfers, she said, and one reason for not accepting a transfer could be that it would exceed the student-teacher ratio and require the hiring of another teacher.

The committee approved one amendment proposed by Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, to specify that the bill would affect only inter-county transfers, not transfers within a county. But members rejected other proposed amendments, including one that would have allowed counties losing students, when that would cause material harm to the county, to appeal to the state superintendent for a remedy. Other delegates said that would go against the spirit of the bill.

“I’m trying to have an extra hammer on those schools that actively recruit to attempt to discourage them from doing so.” – Delegate John Doyle

Another proposed change the committee rejected would have delayed transfers by one year to discourage schools from recruiting athletes from neighboring schools. “I’m trying to have an extra hammer on those schools that actively recruit to attempt to discourage them from doing so, but it is not addressed only to athletics because I don’t know how to do that,” the amendment’s sponsor, Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said.

Among those against the amendment was Delegate Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley, who said the state should not impose such restrictions on county school districts. “This amendment dirties the water,” he said.

Bernie Dolan, executive director of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, said he didn’t see a problem with the bill’s provisions. He explained that WVSSAC’s current transfer policy says ninth-graders have the choice of any schools they want. If a student would transfer outside of his or her home district, the student has one chance to transfer back to the home district, he said. For those wanting to transfer outside of WVSSAC rules, there are two levels of appeals, he said.

Dolan said the WVSSAC board of directors meets each month to decide on requested waivers. He said the board can grant waivers either because of proven hardship or because the rule failed to accomplish what was intended. If a waiver request is unsuccessful, the case can go to the Department of Education’s board of review, which is made up of more than just principals, athletic directors and superintendents, he said.

When it came time to vote on the bill, members of the committee were divided. “I feel like we’re creating two different classes of students,” Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, said. He said school districts would be less likely to accept transfers from students with special needs. He also worried about the effects on smaller counties, saying he pictured “rats jumping off the sinking ship.” Students left in county schools that other students have left would receive less funding, he said.

However, Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, said he thought the bill could have a positive effect in rural areas, such as when a school in a neighboring county would be closer than one in a student’s own county. “I think it’s more positive than harmful,” he said.

“Students are not livestock. We don’t just tag them by the ear and that county owns them. Students and parents should be free to make choices on wherever they want to send their child.” – Delegate Caleb Hanna

Delegate Caleb Hanna, R-Webster, also spoke in favor of the bill. “Students are not livestock,” he said. “We don’t just tag them by the ear and that county owns them. Students and parents should be free to make choices on wherever they want to send their child.” He added that students transfer for various reasons, including smaller class size for a more personal experience.

But Doyle said he couldn’t bring himself to support the bill without the type of change he proposed.

“I think, by opening it like we are, we are going exacerbate what I think is already a very serious problem in high school athletics, and that is the attempt by some schools to overly aggressive recruit,” he said. “I attempted with my amendment to fix that. It was not done, so I must oppose the bill.”

On Thursday, the House gave the bill the second of three required readings, which set it up for potential passage today. House approval would send House Bill 2554 to the Senate, which already approved a similar provision as one of many provisions in Senate Bill 451.

By Jim Wallace

Legislation to require the West Virginia Board of Education to adopt a policy on computer science instruction seems to have an especially high likelihood of passage as early as Monday. That’s because similar Senate and House bills both have been on the move.

The Senate voted 31 to zero to approve its version, Senate Bill 267, on Wednesday, the same day the House Finance Committee approved its counterpart, House Bill 2415. The House gave Senate Bill 267 its first reading Thursday, setting it up for second reading today and possible passage on Monday. Meanwhile, House bill 2415 was scheduled for first reading in the House today, so if Senate Bill 267 does not get through for some reason, the House could pass its own bill as soon as Tuesday.

Gov. Jim Justice requested the legislation, which would add two clauses to state law:

  • Recognizing the importance of computer science instruction and how computer science instruction will assist students in their transition to post-secondary opportunities, prior to the 2020-2021 school year, the state board shall adopt a policy detailing the appropriate level of computer science instruction that shall be available to students at each programmatic level.
  • The West Virginia Department of Education shall develop and offer professional development opportunities to ensure educators are equipped with the requisite knowledge and skill to deliver computer science instruction as outlined in this section. The department may partner with high-quality computer science professional learning providers in developing and offering the professional development opportunities.

When the Senate Education Committee considered Senate Bill 267, Clayton Burch, deputy state superintendent, said the Department of Education already was working to strengthen computer science instruction but would welcome put

By Jim Wallace

The Senate has approved a bill that would allow public schools to be used for certain funerals.

Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, said he introduced Senate Bill 154 after a funeral for a fallen soldier in his district was not permitted to be held at a local school and no other place in the community was big enough for it. He said West Virginia has 166,000 veterans and many first responders, so the law should permit their funerals to be held at schools.

“When tragedy happens – and it does happen – the last thing that I believe that a family needs to worry about is finding a place within their community, if it is needed, to be able to hold their service for their loved one and for people to be able to come together to show the respect that that man or woman deserves.” – Sen. Glenn Jeffries

“When tragedy happens – and it does happen – the last thing that I believe that a family needs to worry about is finding a place within their community, if it is needed, to be able to hold their service for their loved one and for people to be able to come together to show the respect that that man or woman deserves,” Jeffries said.

The bill makes this finding: “Public schools in this state serve as an integral part of the community, and the death of a community member of distinction who was a military service member or veteran who served under honorable conditions or who served as a first responder can have a significant impact on students and the surrounding community.”

In calling for county school boards to allow school facilities to be used for such funerals or memorial services, it says the boards would be allowed to set up processes to handle requests for such use, but they would not be allowed to bear any additional costs as a result of holding funerals or memorial services. The bill also would prohibit such services to disrupt classroom instruction or other school activities.

The Senate voted 31 to zero to approve Senate Bill 154 and send it to the House of Delegates. The House has assigned it to its Education Committee.

 

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.