Legislative News

Overview

Inside

The Thrasher Group

February 22, 2019 - Volume 39 Issue 7

By Jim Wallace

Editor’s Note: The New York Times provides this analysis: Opinion / How West Virginia’s Education Bill Will Punish Children: Lawmakers are lashing out at teachers after their strikes. The children will lose the most https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/11/opinion/how-west-virginias-education-bill-will-punish-children.html

The Senate and House of Delegates spent many hours over 26 days working on Senate Bill 451, the controversial omnibus education. On Tuesday, with striking teachers and school service workers filling the galleries and hallways of the Capital and walking picket lines across the state, the House of Delegates took a little more than one hour and 12 minutes to kill the bill.

The House action came less than a full day after the Senate reinserted into the bill forms of highly contentious provisions the House had removed from the bill, such as education savings accounts and an expanded number of charter schools.

Since then, House Bill 2730 – the so-called “clean bill” proposed by Gov. Jim Justice – to give 5 percent pay raises to teachers and school service workers (as well as State Police troopers) has moved swiftly through the House to possible passage today. The big question is whether Senate leaders, after being spurned in their efforts to attach a wide range of reforms to pay raises, will be willing to pass the bill in its clean form without adding anything to it. That’s what the governor wants.

“Today, right now, I’m calling the legislators to pass my pay raise bill, the bill I sent up, the clean bill,” Justice said in a news conference on Tuesday after the House killed Senate Bill 451. “I’m calling upon them to do that now. Do that right now. I think there’s a real opportunity to move forward here.”

The West Virginia Department of Education has estimated the pay raises for teachers and school service workers would cost $67.7 million. Those for State Police employees would add another $1.8 million. (Including the State Police in the educators’ pay raise bill follows the pattern used last year in a similar bill that gave all of them 5 percent raises.)

“We should not be rewarding a strike by giving them a raise.” – Kathie Crouse

Beginning at eight o’clock this morning, the House held a public hearing on House Bill 2730 requested by Kathie Crouse, an advocate of homeschooling who had testified to legislators in favor of Senate Bill 451. She said about teachers, “We should not be rewarding a strike by giving them a raise.” She went on to say that county school boards should be consolidated and superintendents’ pay should be reduced. She suggested stripping the pay raise for teachers and school service workers out of the bill and giving a raise only to State Police employees.

Among the 24 people who testified in this morning’s hearing, 16 people – including three county superintendents – spoke in favor of House Bill 2730 and eight spoke against it.

Her testimony came after testimony from teachers and a parent in favor of the pay raise bill and before that of other opponents and supporters of the bill. That hearing was not expected to deter the House from passing the pay raise bill and sending it to the Senate.

House killed omnibus bill suddenly.

The House vote to kill Senate Bill 451 Tuesday came as a surprise to many people, including Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, who was the bill’s strongest proponent. He later told reporters that he had been assured by House leaders they would be able to get at least 52 of the 100 delegates to vote for the revised version of the bill the Senate sent to the House on Monday.

But on Tuesday afternoon, delegates first rejected a motion by House Majority Leader Amy Summers, R-Taylor, to postpone consideration of the bill to four o’clock that afternoon on a vote of 45 to 53 with two delegates absent. Then the House voted to support a motion by House Minority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, to postpone consideration of the bill indefinitely.

“The bill needs to die, and it needs to die today.” – Delegate Mike Caputo

“The bill needs to die, and it needs to die today,” Caputo said.

The vote was 53 to 45. Several Republicans joined Democrats in killing the bill.

That came on the first day of a two-day statewide strike by teachers and school service workers – one year after another statewide strike that lasted nine days and led to the 5 percent pay raise the legislature approved in 2018. Union leaders, who already had authorization from their local units around the state, called the strike on Monday evening after the Senate passed a revised version of Senate Bill 451 with more charter schools than the House version would have allowed and with provisions for education savings accounts restored after the House had removed them.

“We want to make it perfectly clear that our trust has been somewhat restored in the House because we have heard from the House today in a positive way,” Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, told striking teachers after the House voted to kill Senate Bill 451 Tuesday. “We need to let the members of the House of Delegates know we appreciate their vote today.”

However, the unions continued the strike through Wednesday just to make sure the House would not try to reverse its action to kill the omnibus education bill. The opportunity for that died after no delegate tried to take it on Wednesday.

Also welcoming the House’s action was Gov. Justice, who previously had indicated he would veto the version of Senate Bill 451 that originally came out of the Senate. “That education bill is dead, and I’m glad of that,” he said at a news conference. “Right now, I’m calling the legislators to pass my pay raise bill, the bill I sent up – the clean bill.”

Last week, the House returned Senate Bill 451 to the Senate with many changes from the version the Senate had passed narrowly on a vote of 18 to 16. The House passed its version of the bill on a vote of 71 to 29 on Thursday afternoon last week.

Senate changed the omnibus bill after the House changed it.

The first version the Senate passed would have allowed an unlimited number of charter schools and would have authorized education savings accounts. Among the changes made by the House were to eliminate the education savings accounts and reduce the number of charter schools to two.

The new version Senate Republicans revealed Monday would have allowed as many as 1,000 education savings accounts worth as much as $3,200 each and up to seven charter schools. The ESAs would be available only to parents of children with special needs or those who have been victims of bullying. Charter schools could be created only by converting existing public schools. Although a total of seven would be allowed, only two could be created each year. One of them would have to be specifically for students facing hardships, such as coming from low-income families or having limited English proficiency.

The Senate also removed a provision the House stuck in the bill that would have provided at least one law enforcement officer for every school at an estimated cost of $40.5 million. Instead, the new Senate version would create a Safe Schools Fund that could receive legislative appropriations based on recommendations from the Department of Education. In addition, the Senate changed the bill back to providing a $500 incentive for teachers to use no more than four of their 15 leave days each year. The House had boosted that bonus to $1,000.

The one provision all of the versions of the bill had in common was a 5 percent pay raise for teachers and school service workers. Gov. Justice, who promised the school workers the pay raise, had said he preferred to receive a bill limited to the pay raise and let other issues be covered in separate bills.

Other common features between the last two versions of Senate Bill 451 included: the ability to offer higher pay for teaching positions in hard-to-fill subjects or difficult geographic locations; a $250 tax credit for those who spend their own money on school supplies; fewer restrictions on student transfers from county to county; allowing county school boards to raise regular levy rates, as long as they get votes of district residents; and providing that School Aid Formula funds for counties with smaller school populations will be based on nothing less than enrollment of 1,400.

The new Senate version emerged quickly Monday afternoon. Senate President Mitch Carmichael acknowledged that it had been put on the Senate’s computer system only 10 minutes before the Senate convened to consider it. Several Democrats complained they had not had enough time to review the bill. One of them, Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, had a lengthy exchange with Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson.

“Do you think I should vote on something I haven’t had a chance to see or read yet?” – Sen. Stephen Baldwin

“Do you think I should vote on something I haven’t had a chance to see or read yet?” Baldwin asked.

“You have to decide what you want to do in terms of your vote,” Rucker responded.

“I can’t imagine you think I should vote on something I haven’t read,” Baldwin said.

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, called the late unveiling of the new Senate version “legislation by ambush.” But Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, contended Senate leaders had made significant concessions. “This bill has many features in it designed to bolster and enhance public education in West Virginia,” he said.

House made many changes in the bill.

When the House version of the bill was up for passage last week, Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, said all the ingredients in the bill made it like a big pot of chili.

“There are some good things in the ingredients that went into the pot of chili,” he said. “I would suggest that we get ourselves a bowl and pass the bill.”

But an opponent of the bill, Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, suggested the bill was like something else after it had gone through a series of amendments over 10-and-a-half hours of debate last Wednesday.

“You took a pile of garbage, and it doesn’t smell so bad anymore,” he said. “I’ll give you credit for that.”

Although the House version limited the number of charter schools to two, that still didn’t sit well with Delegate Joe Canestraro, D-Marshall. “I know of no one who would take two cockroaches home with them and not think they’re going to breed,” he said.

“We did take pretty much of a meat cleaver to it.” – Delegate Tom Bibby

Delegate Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley, expressed disappointment that education savings accounts were removed and the number of charter schools was greatly reduced in the House-passed version. “We did take pretty much of a meat cleaver to it,” he said.

In lieu of the unlimited authorization for charter schools, the House voted to fund innovation zones at schools. That provision has been part of state law for several years but wasn’t funded recently.

Among the provisions the House took out of the bill and the Senate did not restore was a non-severability clause. Its inclusion would have meant that, if a court had struck down any part of the bill, the whole bill – including the pay raise – would have been thrown out. Another provision that did not return was so-called “paycheck protection.” It would have prevented teachers’ and school service workers’ authorization for union dues to be withheld from their paychecks from rolling over automatically from year to year. To keep the union payments going, employees would have had to re-authorize them each year.

Unlike in the Senate, where Republicans had just enough support with votes of 18 to 16 to push through their most controversial proposals, many Republicans abandoned those proposals in the House. In particular, provisions for charter schools and education savings accounts failed by large margins after very long debates.

Now that Senate Bill 451 is dead, the Senate will have the opportunity to pass or kill House Bill 2730, the “clean” pay raise bill, but that’s not senators’ only option. They could try to amend into it some of the provisions that were in Senate Bill 451. Or they try to get certain reform provisions through in separate bills, as many people have said they should have done all along.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has rejected a bill that would have allowed county school boards, as well as other governing boards, to go into executive session to discuss subjects related to “a concerted work stoppage or strike.” The bill came up one day after teachers and school service workers ended a two-day, statewide strike over Senate Bill 451, the omnibus education bill that died in the House on Tuesday.

The legislation did not even get a bill number before the committee voted 11 to seven to kill it Thursday after Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, moved to table the bill. Delegates who voted to table the bill included both Republicans and Democrats.

By Jim Wallace

State Supt. Steve Paine has told county school board members and superintendents that West Virginia’s public school system is moving in the right direction and not performing as badly as some legislators pushing reforms have contended. He also emphasized the need for county school boards and superintendents to maintain professional relationships.

Paine spoke to the West Virginia School Board Association’s Winter Conference ’19 at a time when the fate of Senate Bill 451, the omnibus education bill, was undecided. At the time, he expected few changes in the version of the bill passed by the House of Delegates because the majority of delegates revealed in their votes that they opposed such provisions as charter schools and education savings accounts, which were in the version of the bill narrowly approved by the Senate. That was before action this week, when the Senate put similar provisions back in the bill and then the House killed the bill.

“There are many other aspects of that bill that are fantastic, and so I hope the bill passes for the sake of a lot of kids in our state,” Paine said. Those good aspects of the bill included increased funding for the smallest county school districts, such as Calhoun County, and more Step 5 funding in the School Aid Formula for personnel to serve troubled children, especially those affected by West Virginia’s drug crisis, he said.

“I have never seen kids with the troubles that they have like they have today,” he said.

On the subject of charter schools, Paine said, he wouldn’t be afraid of a pilot project to try them out, but he was more interested in renewed funding for Innovation Zones, which state law already provides for to allow schools to try new concepts.

“We need innovation in public education,” he said. “There’s no doubt about that. We need to look at practices that are successful and that are innovative, and we need a breeding ground for those things to occur.”

“I think those are potentially very dangerous.” – Supt. Steve Paine

But although he would be OK with having a couple of charter schools in a pilot program, Paine wasn’t so welcoming to education savings accounts. “I think those are potentially very dangerous,” he said.

Some of the proponents of Senate 451 argued sweeping reforms were needed because West Virginia’s public education system is failing. Paine said he doesn’t believe that.

“I keep hearing references to the fact we’re performing 48th, 49th and 50th,” he said. “Well, that’s not true.”

For example, he said, West Virginia ranks 36th or 37th for math and reading scores in fourth grade. “Is that something we’re proud of?” Paine asked. “No. It’s not too bad considering the fact that in West Virginia we have a 50th out of 50 ranking in the numbers of adults that have a two- or a four-year degree.”

The leading determinant of a child’s student achievement is the mother’s education level followed by the father’s education level and then by the level of poverty, he said, and West Virginia has one of the highest poverty rankings in the nation. Thus, he said, the schools are “outperforming that rank” but are not being given enough credit for doing so.

“We got to correct this misnomer we’re a failed school system.” – Supt. Steve Paine

“We got to correct this misnomer we’re a failed school system,” Paine said.

When achievement scores are adjusted for poverty, he said, West Virginia ranks among the top 10 states in the country.

“We do a darn good job with kids in poverty, with all those kids,” Paine said. “We teach them well, and other states could actually come to us and probably learn a whole lot about how we work with those kids. We have a graduation rate of 90.2 percent [that] places us third in the country right now.”

Some legislators complain that too many West Virginia high school graduates need to take remedial classes in college, he said, but remedial rates have been declining. He said West Virginia also ranks first in the country for providing school breakfasts, which is important for children in poverty.

“So don’t believe this myth of we’re last because we’re not,” Paine said. “That’s not true, and it’s not fair.”

The best way for people to bring in reform is to claim that the education system is failing, he said. “That’s exactly what’s going on right now,” he said.

Paine cited what he called a “landmark study” from Stanford University in 2013 that found the performance of charter schools is mixed. He said 17 percent of students in charter schools benefit from them, while 37 percent of students suffer in charter schools.

Professional cooperation is needed.

“What works is superintendents and school boards that have an unwavering commitment to raising student achievement, that demand that principals in your schools are strong leaders and create opportunities for them to be the best leaders they can possibly be and an unwavering commitment to make sure that teachers in your classrooms are the best teachers that they can be,” Paine said. “It’s not a silver bullet, and it takes time.”

It takes four to five years to turn around a large school, he said, but it can be done in one to two years in an elementary school.

Sometimes, members of county school boards and even the state school board have their own agendas that can detract from the common goal to raise student achievement, he said.

Recently, Paine said, some districts have had fractured relationships between the school boards and their superintendents. He recalled advice that former state Supt. Hank Marockie gave him years ago to always have contracts that provide for six months’ notice. That way, he said, a superintendent can depart the district in a friendly manner without hurting the school system.

It is critical for school boards and superintendents to show they have professional working relationships, he said. Student achievement is higher when boards and superintendents have relationships that last longer than three years, Paine said. Student achievement goals should be the top focus of all school boards, he said.

Paine said he and the Department of Education have three state-level priorities this year:

  1. Improving math performance;
  2. Reducing chronic absenteeism; and
  3. Providing more instruction in computer coding.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved a bill that would require county school boards to start the school year no earlier than September 1 and end it no later than May 31. Currently, most school districts start the instructional year by mid-August. House Bill 2433 also would reduce the number of instructional days in the school year from 180 to 170.

As it was drafted, the bill would not have changed the number of instructional days but would have required the school year to run between Labor Day and Memorial Day. But members accepted amendments offered by Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, to make the changes.

“I understand that all of the states that perform lower than us all have 180 days,” he said in justifying the change to 170 days. “Conversely, the top 10 range from 165 to 180. There’s no correlation between days [and student performance]. It’s about the quality of instruction among educators.”

Hornbuckle said he proposed the change in the number of instructional days after conferring with teachers and school administrators.

His proposal received bipartisan support. Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, favored reducing the number of days to 170, although he expressed concern it might lead Gov. Jim Justice to reject the bill. “We may be inviting a veto of a perfectly good bill,” Cooper, who is a retired teacher, said.

Another retired teacher, Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, said a school year of 170 days is plenty of time to teach the necessary content to students. “There is no magical number of 180 days,” he said. “I don’t even know where it came from.”

Delegate Amanda Estep-Burton, D-Kanawha, said, speaking as a parent, she would welcome knowing when school would start and end each year.

“I think that this is wonderful,” she said. “Waiting every year and being uncertain about the first day of school and planning vacations – as a mother, I fully support this bill.”

“This can actually end up being the landmark piece of education legislation for the session. I think this one addresses students, parents and teachers, and there’s no political posturing with that.” – Delegate Sean Hornbuckle

But Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, opposed the bill. He said it would be too “paternalistic” for the state to impose the proposed school calendar restrictions on county school districts. He seemed to offer the only nay vote when the committee approved the amended bill.

Hornbuckle said, “This can actually end up being the landmark piece of education legislation for the session. I think this one addresses students, parents and teachers, and there’s no political posturing with that.”

 

By Jim Wallace

The Department of Education’s top priority this year is an effort to improve student achievement in mathematics. That has resulted in a program called math4life, which county school board members and superintendents learned about at the West Virginia School Board Association’s Winter Conference ’19.

“Most of the school district superintendents will tell you: We all have a math problem in terms of our proficiency performance,” Jan Barth, assistant superintendent in the Division of Teaching and Learning, told attendees. “It is not just unique to West Virginia. It is an issue we have across the country.”

The Education Department intends to address the problem by implementing a five-year plan based on advice from experts from across the country, she said. In this first year, the department has developed the framework for the program and districts have developed their plans, Barth said. The department has entered into memoranda of understanding with all districts, as well as the Schools for the Deaf and Blind, she said.

The department has provided a $10,000 planning grant for each district to use to get buy-in from their communities, Barth said, and officials feel good about the feedback they are getting from the districts.

The department has scheduled the math4life program’s official kickoff for March 13-14, she said, and it wants the districts to consider kicking off their county plans during March.

“We know that we have to improve on student engagement. Students who are actively engaged generally come to school more often than those who don’t. And we’re hoping to not only improve our math performance; we should be able to improve student attendance as well.” – Jan Barth

“This is going to be hard work over the next five years,” Barth said. “We know that we have to improve on student engagement. Students who are actively engaged generally come to school more often than those who don’t. And we’re hoping to not only improve our math performance; we should be able to improve student attendance as well.”

Sonya White, assistant director in the Education Department’s Office of Assessment, said, “We want to make sure that our educators are well prepared to teach what they need to teach. We want to improve students’ learning and achievement, and we want to assist local districts as much as we can.”

White said the vision for the program is to: 1) increase student achievement; 2) provide resources and support; 3) develop a marketing plan; and 4) conduct a five-year study.

“We want to have teachers who engage students in mathematics. We don’t want them to sit there and do worksheets all day. We want them to engage with the math.” – Sonya White

Many teachers need to learn how to teach the content better, especially at the elementary level, she said. “We want to have teachers who engage students in mathematics,” White said. “We don’t want them to sit there and do worksheets all day. We want them to engage with the math.”

The department has a dozen retired math teachers working on creating modules for elementary teachers to get additional certification as math specialists or to teach at a higher level, she said. The modules will be free and available online.

The time is right for this, White said, because West Virginia adopted new math materials this fall for the first time in about eight years. Those materials are aligned to new content standards, and poor math achievement scores show the need for change, she said. In response, she said, many districts have been doing “wonderful things.”

The program is to be led by the county school districts, White said. “We’re not telling counties what to do,” she said. “We are just providing resources as they ask for them.”

The department can develop resources that districts maybe couldn’t afford to develop, she said.

Needs differ from county to county, White said, but a common need is to get families involved. “We know that that’s a big problem,” she said.

In addition, White said, the program will equip leaders in each district with the skills they need to lead change. The department wants them to create short-term and long-term goals and to consider best practices, she said.

In particular, White said, about 25 percent to 30 percent of Algebra I teachers are not fully certified to teach that subject, so the department would like to get them fully certified.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate is close to passing Senate Bill 624, which would allow school districts to choose either the SAT or the ACT college readiness test to be administered to all students in 11th grade.

Although the ACT was more commonly used in West Virginia as a college readiness test in the past, the SAT won a bidding contest a few years ago when the state decided that the summative assessment test for 11th graders should be a test that would help them get into college.

Clayton Burch, associate superintendent at the Education Department, said the state made the switch to SAT as it complied with the federal Every Student Succeed Act, which requires the state school board to select a statewide assessment in English language arts and mathematics. However, he said there is a provision for school districts to choose a different test.

But Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, asked, “If we allow two different tests to be used, are we going to be giving up valuable comparative information?”

“No,” Burch replied. “The U.S. Department of Education will require each vendor – SAT, ACT – to go through such a process to make sure they’re aligned to standards, they’re reporting and testing the same types of things, that I think even those districts that choose to use an alternative assessment, we’re going to be able to extract the data we want out of that of how well they do in [English language arts] or math.”

The bill says the Education Department would be responsible for negotiating reasonable per-student costs for use of the tests.

Senate Bill 624 was scheduled for the second of three readings in the Senate today. That would set it up for passage in the Senate when it next meets after which it would head to the House of Delegates.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved Senate Bill 1, which is viewed as primarily a higher education bill, but it also would have implications for public schools.

The bill’s main purpose has been to eliminate the cost of tuition as a hurdle for high school graduates to pursue higher education at West Virginia’s two-year community and technical colleges. It would provide what’s called “last-dollar-in” funding that would pay tuition costs not already covered by scholarships or grants or other funding.

The House Education Committee voted in a bipartisan manner 13 to 10 Thursday to expand the bill to cover the first two years of tuition at four-year colleges and universities, both public and private institutions. The committee made that change after presidents of four-year institutions expressed concern that the original version of the bill would “cannibalize” higher education by encouraging students to go to community and technical colleges for free for two years before transferring to four-year colleges and universities. But some delegates worried the change could lead to runaway costs.

The bill would affect public education because 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.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate Education Committee has approved a bill that is a reaction to a recent incident at Berkeley Heights Elementary School in Berkeley County in which two aides allegedly abused a student with disabilities.

Senate Bill 632 would require video cameras to be placed in special needs classrooms.

The main opponent to the bill was Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone. He said what happened in Berkeley County was a “travesty,” but requiring video cameras in classrooms could make it harder to get people to go into teaching special needs students, and those positions already are hard to fill.

“I really do think that this is just a knee-jerk type of bill,” Stollings said. It would be better to take more time to study the issue, he said. If people want to have surveillance in their classrooms, they already are able to do that, but the bill could have many unknown consequences and create a financial burden, he said.

Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, offered an amendment, which was adopted, to make cameras mandatory in all special education classrooms because many children in those classrooms can’t speak for themselves.

“I think government does a lot of knee-jerk reactions. In this case, I don’t see it as a knee-jerk reaction.” – Sen. Craig Blair

“I think government does a lot of knee-jerk reactions,” Blair said. “In this case, I don’t see it as a knee-jerk reaction.”

Noting that he talked years ago about putting cameras in classrooms in general, he said, “This is the right thing to do for now. I get the thought that it’s a knee-jerk reaction, but I think it’s legislation that has actually happened too late.”

Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, offered tentative support for the bill.

“I can support this, but when you all start talking about having someone be able to monitor a room and everything like that, I think that’s going way too far,” he said. “When talking about handling it for the most vulnerable kids in these kinds of situations, I can agree with that, but let’s not take this in too far into the classroom where they can monitor this at home.”

Senate Bill 632 now goes to the Senate Finance Committee. Blair is the chairman of that committee.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved a bill that would change recommended guidelines for the number of school cooks per meal into mandatory ratios. House Bill 3128 would set the minimum ratio at one cook for every 110 meals prepared and served.

The estimated cost is estimated to be almost $18.5 million, which would be borne by the county school districts, not the state. That would pay for almost 510 more cooks in school districts across the state.

The Education Committee voted 18 to five to approve the bill. For it to go to the full House of Delegates, it must get through the House Finance Committee, but that committee has not put it on its agenda yet.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee one week ago approved House Bill 2865 to change School Aid Formula Step 7 allowances for dual credit, advanced placement and international baccalaureate courses. But the bill had a second reference to the House Finance Committee. So far, that committee has not put the bill on its agenda, and time is running out for the bill to stay alive.

Any House bill not approved by the House by Monday (and any Senate bill not approved by the Senate) will die. Beginning on Monday, with few exceptions, the House can work only on Senate-passed bills, and the Senate can work only of House-passed bills.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved House Bill 2803, which would permit retired teachers to substitute teach a total of 160 days each year without having retirement benefits reduced.

The current limit is 140 days, although retired teachers are allowed to work beyond that if a county board has established a policy for critical need positions, had it approved by the state board and has notified the retirement system. As originally written, the bill would have allowed retired teachers to teach as substitutes for as many as 180 days a year with no consequences, but Jeff Fleck, executive director of the Consolidated Public Retirement Board, warned the committee that could cause problems.

Currently, the Teachers Retirement System complies with Internal Revenue Service rules that allow employee contributions for retirement to be nontaxable. But Fleck said the IRS has prohibitions against “in-service distributions” in which someone is working fulltime but still drawing retirement. Fulltime for teachers would be 180 days, so it could jeopardize the tax-exempt status of the Teachers Retirement System contributions if retired teachers, other than those in critical need areas, would be allowed to work that long during a school year, he said. A separate statute governs the filling of positions in critical need areas, he said.

“This would open it up to anything, not just critical need.” – Jeff Fleck

“This would open it up to anything, not just critical need,” Fleck said. “So that’s the difference.”

About 36,000 retirees are in the Teachers Retirement System, he said, and he couldn’t tell what effect the proposed change might have on them unless he consulted with tax counsel and the IRS.

Asked if the only problem with the bill was allowing retiring teachers to work up to 180 days, Fleck said it was. “We know we’re safe at the 140 days,” he said. “We don’t know that we are with the 180 days.”

Currently, when retired teachers reach the 140-day limit, their retirement pay is not terminated, but it is reduced, he said.

Fleck also expressed a concern conveyed to him by his agency’s actuary. “It would change the experience in the plan because right now the average age of when a teacher retires is around 64-65 years old,” he said. “In this scenario, they could retire in some instances as early as age 55 and then go back to work, draw their full retirement and draw full salary. So it would be costly. It would increase the unfunded liability of the Teachers Retirement System.”

Delegate Terry Waxman, R-Harrison, noted that West Virginia has about 700 teaching positions not filled by fully qualified teachers. “So the effort, I believe, is to provide consistent daily teaching for the classrooms that are now not being served,” she said. Then she asked if it would help to make retired teachers independent contractors.

Fleck said there are no restrictions on independent contractors, but there has been discussion about the definition of independent contractor. “If they’re performing the job of an employee and they meet certain criteria, they would be considered an employee rather than an independent contractor,” he said. “And as far as your statement about the 700 vacancies, if it was determined it was a critical need, it would be covered under the critical need [provisions] and we could have a [retired] teacher fill that position.”

After that conversation, the committee voted to amend the bill to allow retired teachers to stay in the classrooms for 160 days instead of 180 days. Fleck said his agency still would need to check with tax counsel to see if that would be OK with the IRS.

The House Education Committee approved House Bill 2803 and sent it to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.

By Jim Wallace

A bill to permit employees of educational services cooperatives to participate in the state Teachers Retirement System is close to passage.

Senate Bill 26 also would permit persons employed for instructional services by educational services cooperatives to participate in the state Teachers’ Defined Contribution Retirement System.

The House passed a similar bill last year, but it failed to make it through the Senate.

Many current employees of the educational service cooperatives previously served as employees of the Regional Education Service Agencies, which were phased out, so those employees already were in the system. This bill would just confirm that they could continue in the retirement system.

The Senate passed the bill on February 12 on a vote of 34 to zero. It was scheduled for its second of three readings in the House of Delegates today. That means the House could pass the bill the next time it meets, which could be as early as Saturday. Unless the House would amend the bill, it then would go to Gov. Jim Justice for his signature.

By Jim Wallace

A bill that would require public schools to take certain safety measures was up for passage in the House of Delegates today.

As originally written, House Bill 2541 would have required county school boards to have room numbers placed on exterior walls of school buildings to allow law enforcement to identify them, post floor plans at building entrances to aid law enforcement, ensure that every classroom window could be opened easily or have a tool available nearby to break it, and provide active shooter training for teachers and students at the beginning of each school year.

The House Education Committee changed the bill early this week. The substitute version would require schools to update their floor plans and provide copies to first responders and law enforcement each year, but they no longer would have to post the floor plans at school entrances. Also, it would require each district to provide first aid training to students and teachers each year.

The provision to replace existing windows with breakable windows was removed at the suggestion of the Education Department because of the cost. Sarah Stewart, an attorney for the Department of Education, said the breakable windows represented logistical issues with older buildings in addition to cost issues.

“Mandating that every county do it by September 1, 2019, was very worrisome to us,” she said. “Additionally, mandating windows on 691 facilities, all of which have a different age would just cause a problem for counties. Do they have the funds to do it? Does the construction of the building have to be adjusted to fit these types of windows? With some, there were a bunch of concerns – not that it’s not a very noble and worthwhile expenditure.”

Stewart suggested it would be better to leave such issues to the School Building Authority.

The committee also changed the bill to allow room numbers to be put either on exterior walls or windows.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved a bill to allow people who home-school their children or send them to private schools to get a personal income tax credit. However, it must get through the House Finance Committee before Monday to be able to move on, but that committee has yet to put House Bill 3063 on its agenda.

As originally drafted, the bill would have allowed a personal income tax credit of up to $500 for qualified educational expenses for each child of a taxpayer who was schooled at home or attended a private school for the most recent academic year. However, the House Education Committee changed that to $250.

The committee voted 14 to 10 to approve the bill on Monday.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate Education Committee has approved a bill that would allow people to invest in the state’s Smart529 savings accounts for use in paying tuition at private elementary and secondary schools. Currently, the use of such accounts is limited to college tuition.

The committee originated the bill Thursday afternoon, so it did not have a bill number yet.

Under federal law, 529 plans allow people to put tax-deferred money into the tuition savings accounts as long as they are used only for qualified education expenses. The bill would expand those qualified expenses to include elementary and secondary school tuition in addition to college tuition.

Josh Stowers, assistant state treasurer, told the committee he believed federal law now allows states to do that.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved House Bill 3001, which would increase compensation for county board of education members. The bill also would allow compensation for participating in certain statewide training sessions, serving as a member on a governing council of an educational services cooperative or on an administrative council of a multicounty vocational center.

The maximum compensation would increase from $160 meeting to $200 per meeting for school board meetings, meetings of administrative councils of multi-county vocational centers and training sessions. The maximum for meetings of governing boards of educational services cooperatives would be $100.

The committee approved House Bill 3001 with little comment early this week, but it must get through the House Finance Committee before it can reach the full House of Delegates. That committee has yet to put the bill on its agenda.

By Jim Wallace

Two bills that would get rid of school employees convicted of sex offenses or distribution of controlled substances are on track for passage in the House of Delegates after getting through the House Judiciary Committee Thursday.

The first bill, House Bill 2378, began with the single purpose of revoking the teaching certificate of anyone convicted of any offense that would require registration as a sex offender. But the House Education Committee amended it to include conviction of any criminal offense involving the distribution of a control substance as another reason for revoking a teaching certificate.

That committee then originated a separate bill, House Bill 2662, that would have the same effect for school service personnel and school bus drivers. For a school service worker, such a conviction would result in the automatic termination of the employee’s contract. For a school bus driver, it would result in revocation of the person’s school bus operator certificate.

The Education Committee approved both bills in late January, but they had to go through the House Judiciary Committee, which did not get to them until Thursday. That committee spent about one and three-quarters hours debating the bills and making changes before approving them and sending them to the full House for approval

By Jim Wallace

The Senate is close to passing a bill that would require county school boards to provide free feminine hygiene products to students in grades six through 12 who need them but don’t have access to them.

Senate Bill 86 has received approval from both the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. It was scheduled for second reading in the Senate today, which would make it ready for passage the next time the Senate meets.

As it was originally drafted, it would have required school boards to provide the products to all girls in grades six through 12, which was estimated to cost the boards $2.5 million. But it was changed to say they would have to be provided only for those girls who can’t get them on their own.

Alisa Clements, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, said the idea for the bill came up when it was discovered that some girls in Monongalia County miss school because of a lack of these products.

“If this is happening in Monongalia County and Morgantown, a very resource-heavy area, what does that mean for other counties that don’t have the same opportunities that we have?” she asked.

The school board in Monongalia County supports the bill, Clements said, and those in Marshall and Greenbrier counties already do what the bill would require.

“I support this bill because I do not want ever there to be a reason for a student not to attend school that we can help prevent. I don’t like the fact that it is an unfunded mandate, and I don’t like the fact that we have no way of knowing how much it would cost. But I do believe most schools do already provide [these products]. For that reason, I’m still willing to support this legislation.” – Sen. Patricia Rucker

Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said, “I support this bill because I do not want ever there to be a reason for a student not to attend school that we can help prevent. I don’t like the fact that it is an unfunded mandate, and I don’t like the fact that we have no way of knowing how much it would cost. But I do believe most schools do already provide [these products]. For that reason, I’m still willing to support this legislation.”

Senate Health and Human Resources Chairman Mike Maroney, said, “It is an unfunded mandate to the counties.” However, he supported it after hearing Monongalia County was “perfectly OK with it,” and so were a few other large counties.

 

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.