Legislative News

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McKinley Architects & Engineers

The Thrasher Group

March 1, 2019 - Volume 39 Issue 8

By Jim Wallace

A big question that hung over the West Virginia Legislature as this week began was: What might the Senate do about a pay raise bill for teachers and school service workers? As the week nears a close, that question remains unanswered.

If leaders of the Senate had wanted to pass House Bill 2730 – the bill proposed by Gov. Jim Justice – to give 5 percent pay raises to teachers and school service workers (as well as State Police troopers) this week, the Senate could have done it by now. The bill has been in the hands of the Senate Education Committee all week. When the committee met on Tuesday, only one bill was on its agenda, and it wasn’t House Bill 2730. The committee scheduled another meeting for Thursday afternoon with just two bills on the agenda, neither one House Bill 2730, and then Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, cancelled the meeting. As of this morning, no other meeting of the committee had been scheduled.

On Thursday afternoon, as the legislature was in the 51st day of its 60-day session, the House Finance Committee and the Senate Finance Committee both met separately to consider bills for the state budget for the fiscal year that will begin in July. It was notable that the House version included funding for the pay raises, while the Senate version did not. Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said that was simply because the Senate had not passed a pay raise bill while the House had done so. More precisely, the Senate did approve the 5 percent pay raises but did so in Senate Bill 451, the omnibus education bill that was filled with many other provisions, including controversial measures that led to a two-day strike by teachers and school service workers and rejection of the bill by the House of Delegates.

“There is the potential that you could vote a pay raise out between now and Day 60 and that would become law. Now, if it’s not done in that window, then it would take a special session for being able to handle that.” – Sen. Craig Blair

“There is the potential that you could vote a pay raise out between now and Day 60 and that would become law,” Blair told inquiring Democrats on the committee Thursday. “Now, if it’s not done in that window, then it would take a special session for being able to handle that.”

But pushing the pay raise issue over into a special session would go against the goal leaders in both the Senate and the House have expressed of settling on the state budget before the regular legislative session ends on the evening of Saturday, March 9. It would be the second straight year for that to occur. In the past, it was more common for legislators to finish work on the budget either in an extended session devoted only to that purpose or in a special session later in the spring.

The Senate’s delay in taking up the pay raise bill has led some people to wonder whether Senate leaders would refuse to approve a simple pay raise bill after being spurned by the House, as well as striking teachers and school service workers, on the omnibus education bill with the other education reforms Senate leaders wanted. Blair even suggested diverting the money from the proposed pay raises into fixing up West Virginia’s deteriorating roads. By contrast, the House wasted little time last week in passing the so-called “clean” pay raise bill proposed by the governor after rejecting Senate Bill 451.

House gave strong support for pay raise bill.

The House voted 89 to eight last Friday to approve House Bill 2730. That was just three days after Senate Bill 451 died in the House with 53 delegates -- mostly Democrats along with several Republicans – voting against it and 45 delegates voting in favor of it.

“If we can’t pay our teachers a competitive rate, we’ll keep losing teachers to other states.” – Delegate Mark Dean

“If we can’t pay our teachers a competitive rate, we’ll keep losing teachers to other states,” House Education Vice Chairman Mark Dean, R-Mingo, said as the House considered House Bill 2730. He is principal an elementary and middle school in Gilbert.

Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, reminded his colleagues that Gov. Jim Justice promised on October 2 with the support of legislative leaders that teachers would get a 5 percent pay raise. “We’re here because a couple of weeks before the general election the governor and other elected officials promised this pay raise,” he said. “This is about keeping promises. I wholeheartedly support this bill.”

Even though the vast majority of delegates supported the pay raise bill, the vote came only after a long debate in which opponents spoke strongly against it. Delegate Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley, said the raise for the State Police should be considered in a separate bill.

“Have the State Police ever struck – walked out?” he asked. “I’m 110 percent behind police. Unfortunately they’re stuck in a bill here where we’re going to give a pay raise to people who walked off the job.”

Others expressed concern about the $67.7 million cost for pay raises for teachers and school service workers, as well as $1.8 million for the State Police. Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, noted that those costs would form part of the new baseline for the state budget and wondered if the state would be able to handle that if revenues would decline.

“I think what’s going to happen is, to be practical about it, those surpluses are not sustainable,” he said.

The House vote came just a few hours after the House held a public hearing on the pay raise bill. That hearing was requested by Kathie Crouse, an advocate of homeschooling who had testified to legislators in favor of Senate Bill 451 and did not want to reward striking teachers by giving them a raise. She also advocated the consolidation of county school boards and reducing pay for county school superintendents.

On the other side, Joseph Cohen, the father of two sons in public school, urged approval of the pay raise for teachers. “They’re woefully underpaid,” he said. “They’re woefully underappreciated.”

Among those who spoke against the pay raise bill was Jessi Troyan of the Cardinal Institute, an organization that promotes conservative economic policies. “What are we getting for that $68 million?” Troyan asked in reference to the cost of the pay raises for teachers and school service workers. “No alternatives for families to deal with the state’s many educational challenges.”

But others argued that, if West Virginia wants to address its educational challenges effectively, the state must pay its teachers better.

Robin Daquilante, superintendent of schools in Tyler County, noted that average pay for teachers is $45,390, which is much lower than that of neighboring states, such as $53,140 in Kentucky, $68,460 in Virginia and $58,900 nationally.

“Is it any wonder why we have a shortage of 1,000 teachers in West Virginia?” – Supt. Robin Daquilante

“Is it any wonder why we have a shortage of 1,000 teachers in West Virginia?” she asked.

The 5 percent pay raises proposed in House Bill 2730 would bring the average pay for West Virginia teachers up by $2,120 while bringing up the average pay for school service workers by $1,150.

Whether they get their raises by the end of the legislative session a little more than one week from now will depend on what, if anything, the Senate does with House Bill 2730 in the final week of the session.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has passed two bills aimed at taking care of one of the big issues in the nine-day, statewide teachers’ strike in 2018: the cost of health insurance. Both bills would make changes affecting the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

House Bill 3139 would provide more flexibility to the Public Employees Insurance Agency to manage reserves and financing on a year-to-year basis. It would establish the PEIA Rainy Day Fee as a dedicated source of funding for PEIA and deposit funds collected from the fee into a special revenue account called the PEIA Rainy Day Fund.

As House Finance Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, explained, the Department of Revenue would assess and collect the fee from employers participating in PEIA. The secretary of the Department of Revenue would determine how much to collect from agencies for each fulltime-equivalent employee to fill up the new Rainy Day Fund, he said.

Further, Householder said, “Upon the written approval of the governor, the secretary may transfer monies from the PEIA Rainy Day Fund to the Public Employees Insurance Agency only to: 1) reduce or prevent benefit cuts; 2) reduce premium increases; or 3) any combination thereof. The amount of monies transferred may be included in the calculation of any plan year aggregate premium cost-sharing percentages between employers and employees.”

The companion bill, House Bill 2665, would provide a supplemental appropriation of $105 million for the PEIA Rainy Day Fund using money from the current fiscal year’s budget surplus. AS Gov. Jim Justice said in his State of the State address in January, that $105 million would be leveraged to build up $150 million in the PEIA Rainy Day Fund.

“So you’re taking money from fiscal year 2019 general revenue, and what you’re doing with that money, you’re putting it into the new Rainy Day Fund, so that it pre-funds three years of future cost of premium increases.” – Delegate Eric Householder

“So you’re taking money from fiscal year 2019 general revenue, and what you’re doing with that money, you’re putting it into the new Rainy Day Fund, so that it pre-funds three years of future cost of premium increases,” Householder said. “So you’re getting an advantage of prefunding three years of those future costs, which is a plus.”

But several delegates were concerned about how the assessments would affect state colleges and universities. Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said agencies funded by the state through general revenue would have no problem. “For those agencies, they’re pretty secure, but for the higher education institutions, they got a $16 million unfunded mandate,” he said. That’s because they have many positions funded by special revenue, such as tuition, fees and grants, he said.

But Householder said, “Don’t forget that there is a hardship waiver that we have in the bill. The secretary of revenue could grant the hardship waiver and give them up to six months additional [time] to pay.”

“That means that within one budget year, they’re going to have to come up with a substantial sum of money.” – Delegate Larry Rowe

However, Rowe replied, “But only six months, and that means that within one budget year, they’re going to have to come up with a substantial sum of money, and I assume it’s based on the number of employees that they have who are not covered by general revenue.”

At that point in the discussion, Delegate Larry Linville, R-Cabell, asked, “Would federally funded positions get this assessment?”

Householder responded, “We’re doing this assessment so we can capture that money, so they can pay their fair share.”

“Exactly,” Linville said, “So the federal government would be paying their fair share into PEIA. So right there is new money that we’re pulling in from the federal government. That’s the entire purpose of this assessment so that we pull in new money from the federal government rather than from the taxpayers of West Virginia.”

Householder added that higher education institutions would have until the end of December 2020 before the assessment is due if they would get the six-month waiver. Further, he said, he would do what he could to help them by putting money into the state budget bill to help them cover the costs of their assessments.

The bill that would impose the fee, House Bill 3139, passed in the House by a vote of 93 to six. In addition to Rowe, those who voted against it included: Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan; Rodney Miller, D-Boone; Amanda Estep-Burton, D-Kanawha; Rodney Pyles, D-Monongalia; and Steve Westfall, R-Jackson.

House Bill 2665 to set aside surplus funds for the PEIA Rainy Day Fund passed on a vote of 99 to zero.

Both bills have gone to the Senate Finance Committee.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has passed a pair of bills designed to help county school districts get rid of employees convicted of certain offenses.

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 code section currently allows for automatic revocation of the license of someone who’s convicted of sexual abuse by a person of trust,” House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, said shortly before the House voted on the first bill. “This bill would expand the automatic revocation to include teachers who have been convicted of any criminal offense that requires the teacher to register as a sex offender or any criminal offense for which distribution or delivery of a controlled substance is an element. The bill also adds an automatic termination clause for child abuse and extended state statutory references regarding child abuse and sexual abuse to include comparable convictions in other states.”

Hamrick said the second bill would have the same effect for school bus drivers and other school service personnel.

The House approved both bills on votes of 99 to zero. Both of them have gone to the Senate Education Committee.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate has sent to the House of Delegates a bill that was introduced partly in response 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 purpose is to create a safer environment in public schools.” – Sen. Patricia Rucker

“The purpose is to create a safer environment in public schools,” Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, told her colleagues.

The bill would require:

  • County school boards to conduct an annual assessment on safety measures and make safety upgrades, when needed.
  • County school boards to report to the state school board, which then would have to compile a single report to present to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.
  • The state to create a special revenue account to be used for enhanced safety measures.
  • Video cameras to be installed in self-contained classrooms, which are defined as classrooms that offer predominantly special education instruction.
  • Cameras to be able to monitor all areas of the classrooms and be audio ready.

The bill specifically provides that no cameras could be used in bathroom areas or areas where students might change clothing. Cameras would not be in operation when students are not present. Notice of the cameras would have to be given in writing to parents, county school boards and school employees who might work in the self-contained classrooms.

The bill would provide for requirements for retaining video recordings, such as during pending investigations or administrative or legal proceedings. The videos could not be used for teacher evaluations or other purposes not promoting the general well-being of students. Parents would be allowed to view videos pursuant to the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which pertains to the students’ school records.

Asked if parents would have the right to object to the recording of videos, Rucker said that was not resolved in the Senate Education Committee. She had expected the Senate Finance Committee to resolve that issue, but it didn’t, she said. However, she added, “When they have cameras in the buses, they don’t require the parents to consent to that. There are some schools that currently have cameras in the hallways. They do not require consent from every single parent for that.”

When former Logan County school board member, Sen. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, asked who would pay for all of the bill’s requirements, Rucker said that is what the Safe Schools Fund, the special revenue account created by the bill, is for. She said the legislature would appropriate money for that fund. But Hardesty was still skeptical.

“Being a former board member, I’ve seen numerous unfunded mandates get funneled down to a local board.” – Sen. Paul Hardesty

“Being a former board member, I’ve seen numerous unfunded mandates get funneled down to a local board,” he said.

Speaking in favor of the bill, its lead sponsor, Sen. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, said the idea for such legislation began coming to him before news of the incident in Berkeley County broke. “I was contacted by a constituent with concerns for her special needs student,” he said. “We discussed what could take place. I spoke to a few others.”

When news of the Berkeley County incident came out the next day, he said, he moved forward with the bill. “It is really easy for me to continue to push for this piece of legislation,” Maynard said.

The Senate approved the bill on a vote of 31 to three. The three senators who voted against it were: Bob Beach, D-Monongalia; Ron Stollings, D-Boone; and Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha.

The House has assigned Senate Bill 632 to its Education Committee and then its Finance Committee.

By Jim Wallace

A bill to revitalize the Innovation Zones program moved forward in the Senate this week, more than a month after the House of Delegates passed it.

House Bill 2009 would provide for up to 20 schools to implement mastery-based education using the Innovation in Education grant program. The goal of mastery-based education is to improve student mastery of content knowledge and skills by allowing students to advance after reaching the required level of proficiency instead of achieving at least a minimum passing grade at the end of a term.

When the Senate Education Committee considered the bill on Tuesday, Clayton Burch, associate superintendent at the Department of Education, said the department would implement it the way it did past legislation for Innovation Zones. In 2017, the last time Innovation Zones were funded, 43 schools applied, he said, and the department used a broad review panel, which consisted of representatives from career tech, the governor’s office, county representatives and others. He estimated it would cost about $1 million to fund the 20 pilot projects that House Bill 2009 would authorize.

Burch said he was unaware of any academic programs in West Virginia public schools that have implemented mastery-based learning models, although some career-tech programs might do something similar to that.

However, before the committee acted on the bill, members heard from Joanna Burt-Kinderman, math instruction coach for Pocahontas County schools, who suggested the mastery-based education model called for in the bill might not be the best approach. She has received national attention from Education Week, other publications and the U.S. Department of Education for a different method that has produced extraordinary improvement in middle school and high school math achievement in her district.

“My concern would be that this approach be handled with great care.” – Joanna Burt-Kinderman

“My concern would be that this approach be handled with great care,” Burt-Kinderman said about mastery-based education. “It’s a very different approach to running a math classroom.”

In particular, she expressed concern about how to handle students who are below their grade levels, such as sixth-graders who don’t know their times tables. In such cases, she said, many teachers’ instinct is to teach them content from a lower grade level.

“What we’ve done in Pocahontas County is exactly the opposite of that,” Burt-Kinderman said. “Instead, we’ve said, here are the sixth-grade big ideas, and what we need to do is to create a really active, engaged space where students interact with one another and get their own math story, their own math narrative of the big idea of ratios, because that’s central to sixth grade.”

By contrast, she said, the mastery-based education approach looks more like individualizing instruction. “I don’t see that as being the most promising path forward,” she said. “So I would love to see investment in innovation, and perhaps there are a group of schools very excited to take on this [mastery-based] approach. And if so, amen and kudos for funding and going in that direction, but I hope you won’t limit innovation in our state only to this particular subset of ideas. We have at least 35 districts in this state actively interested in finding out: How are you doing math instruction in Pocahontas County and how could we begin to replicate [it]?”

Burt-Kinderman added, “Allow other districts to learn from us. We don’t need to take a chance on this idea. This idea has proven outcomes over the course of seven years, and there are many other examples than Pocahontas County math of little pockets of real greatness. And I would love to see our innovation thinking be inclusive of outcomes we already know are promising.”

In Pocahontas County, she said, she works with teachers as a group to define the problems they see in their classrooms. They look at the problems they all have, examine literature on those issues and then choose methods of teaching that inspire them, she said.

New innovation programs would be different.

Among those supporting the mastery-based education model was Amelia Courts of the Education Alliance. She said the bill would handle the implementation of new methods differently than previous Innovation Zones legislation did. Under House Bill 2009, schools would be required to explore, research and learn about proposed reforms in the first phase before acting on them, she said. Unlike prior innovation grants in which each school put forward its own innovative idea, this legislation would take an incubator approach, she said. Schools would be supported to research and identify the models that work best for them before they would apply for grants to implement them, she said, adding that one of the challenges of past Innovation Zones has been evaluating them and determining how to scale them up for other schools to do.

Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, offered an amendment to change the definition of mastery-based education so that it might include programs like that Burt-Kinderman described.

“Everybody wants to have additional innovation in our school system. I’m afraid if there’s a system out there that wants to adopt the program Joanne is doing, they wouldn’t have the opportunity under the bill as currently written.” – Sen. Stephen Baldwin

“Everybody wants to have additional innovation in our school system,” he said. “I’m afraid if there’s a system out there that wants to adopt the program Joanne is doing, they wouldn’t have the opportunity under the bill as currently written.”

But Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said she wasn’t comfortable changing the definition of something defined by the sponsors of the bill. She suggested adding to the bill a category that would be more expansive rather than changing the definition of mastery-based education already there.

Just then, one of the bill’s sponsors, Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, appeared at the meeting. He told the committee the bill was not intended to exclude other types of innovations. But he did confirm what Courts said about using the initial year of the process as an organizational period to get proposals up and running. After conferring with other supporters of the bill, Espinosa said they would be amenable to adding a section saying other types of innovation would not be precluded.

The committee then accepted Baldwin’s amendment and approved House Bill 2009 but yielded to a request by Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, to send it to the Finance Committee, for which he is the chairman, because of its financial implications.

A fiscal note estimates the program established by the bill would cost $125,000 in its first year. If as many as 20 schools were chosen to participate, it would cost as much as $1 million the following year.

The Senate Finance Committee had House Bill 2009 on the agenda for its meeting today.

By Jim Wallace

Many school districts would have to hire more psychologists under a bill that received unanimous approval in the House of Delegates. If it would become law, House Bill 2397 would mandate that schools have one psychologist for every 1,000 students in kindergarten through seventh grade beginning in the 2021-2022 school year. As an alternative, a district could contract with licensed school psychologists, psychiatrists or equivalent services under a plan approved by the state school board. However, each county school district would be required to employ at least one school psychologist.

“This bill requires county boards of education to provide adequate mental health evaluations for all pupils attending the schools of their county and additionally provide adequate mental health and counseling services to pupils who are in need of those services arising as a result of issues stemming from drug abuse in this state,” House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, told his colleagues shortly before the House approved the bill on a vote of 99 to zero.

As it was approved by the House Committee on Prevention and Treatment of Substance Abuse, the bill called for one psychologist for every 500 students, but the House Education Committee changed it to one for every 1,000 students, as the bill was drafted originally.

Christina Mullins, commissioner of the Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities, told the House Education Committee there are 129 practicing school psychologists in West Virginia. She said another 266 would be needed to meet recommended caseloads of one the every 500 to 700 students. She made that comment before the committee changed the requirement back to one psychologist for every 1,000 students.

“With the current workforce, I think we would have difficulty meeting the requirements in the bill.” – Christina Mullins

Asked if she thought the numbers in the bill were realistic, Mullins said, “With the current workforce, I think we would have difficulty meeting the requirements in the bill.” She said there are shortages of psychologists statewide.

Asked if better pay for school psychologists would help, Mullins said, “Pay always helps. I do think that it makes it more attractive when folks think that they can make a living. One of my concerns has been equity for mental health in the same way we have for physical health. I don’t think we, in general, pay our mental health practitioners for what we need from them. I think the need is so big it’s just a gaping hole for all of us. We all are desperate for social workers. We’re desperate for counselors. We’re desperate for all these disciplines across the board.”

Children need those professionals, but so do people struggling with substance abuse disorder and mental health conditions, she said. “I think that we have to draw on all the disciplines to be able to meet the needs,” she added.

Mullins said many school psychologists tend to get drawn in to handle testing and writing reports, which takes them away from other duties, so it’s important to draw on all the people who are qualified to deliver mental health services.

When the Education Committee was ready to vote on the bill, several members endorsed it.

“I love the bill,” Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, said. “I’m excited about it, but I’m concerned if we say that they shall employ these people by ‘21-‘22, we’re going to tie some hands…. I just don’t know where these people are going to come from.”

Delegate Cindy Lavender-Bowe, D-Greenbrier, said, “It’s a step in the right direction. I think that there are things further down the road that we can craft to better support it.”

Delegate Amanda Estep-Burton, D-Kanawha, said, “I will support anything that goes in this direction.”

Likewise, Delegate Martin Atkinson, R-Roane, said the bill is needed. “We have broken homes, single-parent homes, grandparents raising children, children that are raised in drug homes,” he said, adding that schools often serve as parents for children who don’t get proper parenting at home.

No committee was heard to vote against the bill.

The Senate has assigned House Bill 2397 to its Education Committee and then its Finance Committee. So far, it has no fiscal note indicating how much it would cost to implement.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate has approved Senate Bill 605 to address the issue of head injuries in school sports. It would permit the West Virginia Secondary School Athletics Commission to discipline schools that do not follow either the requirements of their emergency action plans for athletics or the required protocol on concussions and head injuries regarding interscholastic athletes.

Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said the bill would require the SSAC to establish guidelines for noncompliance and related disciplinary actions, and the state school board would have to submit the rules to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.

“It also modifies qualifications of athletic trainers and physical therapists for purpose of removing an athlete from competition due to concussion and head injury and authorizing the athlete to return to play,” she said.

The Senate voted 34 to zero to approve the bill. The House has sent the bill to its Education Committee.

By Jim Wallace

County school boards would be allowed to include faith-based electives in classroom drug prevention programs under Senate Bill 379, which the Senate approved this week.

The bill also would require the state school board to promulgate a rule on how faith-based electives could be offered so they would not violate constitutional requirements.

Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the Department of Education, told the Senate Education Committee, “We will make ourselves available to counties in navigating these [issues].”

The lead sponsor is Sen. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, who said the concept came out of a conversation he had with a man who leads a Teen Challenge program. The man said he has programs addressing prevention that he can’t get into classrooms during normal school hours, so he must do afterschool programs, Maynard said.

“He feels he can make a great difference,” he said.

“I’m for whatever we can work out and help the drug problem. We’ve got to have some help. We’re losing the battle.” – Sen. Rollan Roberts

Sen. Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh, said, “I’m for whatever we can work out and help the drug problem. We’ve got to have some help. We’re losing the battle.”

The Senate voted 33 to one to approve the bill with only Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, voting against it. The House of Delegates has sent Senate Bill 379 to its Education Committee.

 

By Jim Wallace

The Senate has voted 34 to zero to pass Senate Bill 238, which would increase the penalties for passing stopped school buses and provide for the installation of forward-facing cameras on new school buses to aid in enforcement. The unanimous vote came after Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, told his colleagues that school bus drivers have tough jobs that include navigating West Virginia’s terrain, maintaining order on their buses and dealing with weather hazards, let alone getting license plate numbers of drivers who pass the buses while stopped.

“This bill is going to provide federal funding so that you can have front-facing and rear-facing cameras on all new school buses, so law enforcement can do their job.” – Sen. Stephen Baldwin

“When something like this happens, they can’t get the plates,” he said. “They’re trying to take care of the kids and maintain order on the bus. They can’t catch somebody’s plates to ensure they’re held accountable. So this bill is going to provide federal funding so that you can have front-facing and rear-facing cameras on all new school buses, so law enforcement can do their job.”

Baldwin noted that a Lincoln County girl died several years ago after being struck by a car when she got off a bus. That was “an absolute tragedy that is senseless and unnecessary,” he said.

The House of Delegates has assigned Senate Bill 238 to its Judiciary Committee.

By Jim Wallace

A bill approved by the House of Delegates to help stimulate West Virginia’s agricultural industry would have an effect on public schools.

House Bill 2396, called the West Virginia Fresh Food Act, would require all state-funded institutions to purchase a minimum of 5 percent of fresh produce, meat and poultry products from in-state producers, provided that those products are available from in-state producers at costs no more than the costs of such products from out-of-state producers. It originally called for a minimum of 20 percent, but the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee changed it to 5 percent.

The House voted 98 to one to approve the bill with only Delegate Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, voting against it.

The Senate assigned the bill to its Agriculture and Rural Development Committee and then its Government Organization Committee.

By Jim Wallace

A bill to promote agriculture at West Virginia high schools received unanimous approval from the Senate this week. Senate Bill 329 would attempt to get all public high schools to offer agricultural instruction.

Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said the legislation, which would take effect in the 2020-2021 school year, would encourage school districts and multi-county vocational centers to make available agricultural programs to high school students. That would include, but not be limited to, programs that would allow for support and establishment of local Future Farmers of America chapters. If school districts would request it, the Department of Education would be required to assist in establishing agricultural programs available to high school students in the districts.

The bill also would provide that, if funding is the primary reason for not establishing such programs, the department would be required to report that to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability.

Asked what would be different from what is done now, Rucker said it wouldn’t be much different. She said it just would put into state law the process for the Education Department to assist districts that don’t have agriculture education and a process for legislators to find out if funding is an issue. However, she said, the bill would not create a mandate to establish such agriculture education programs.

Senate approved the Senate Bill 329 on a vote of 34 to zero. The House of Delegates has sent it to its Education Committee and then its Finance Committee.

By Jim Wallace

Gov. Jim Justice has signed into law a bill he requested on computer science instruction.

The House voted 97 to zero to approve Senate Bill 267 after the Senate approved it on a vote of 31 to zero.

The bill directs the state school board to adopt a policy detailing the appropriate level of computer science instruction at each level. The Department of Education must develop other professional development opportunities to ensure educators are equipped to deliver the best computer science curriculum. The department may partner with high-quality computer science professional learning providers to accomplish that.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has approved a bill on open education resources. House Bill 2853 would establish a program under the West Virginia Library Commission to encourage and facilitate the use of open education resource materials in both higher education and public schools.

”Open education resources are materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under the open license that permits low-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions,” House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, said.

The Library Commission would be required to consult with higher education and public education officials to figure out who currently is using open resource materials and determine how to make greater use of such materials, he said.

The House vote 99 to zero to approve the bill. The Senate has sent it to its Education Committee and then its Finance Committee.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has approved House Bill 3145, which would change the Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship Program to the Underwood-Smith Teaching Scholars Program and modify the program. It would shift the focus to students pursuing teaching careers in math, science, special education or music education in geographic areas of special need. It would change the eligibility requirements to include a cumulative grade-point average of 3.25 on a 4.0 scale.

Scholarship recipients would be required to teach in West Virginia for five consecutive years following graduation.

The House voted 98 to one to pass the bill with the only dissenting vote coming from Delegate Geoff Foster, R-Putnam.

The Senate assigned the bill to its Education Committee and then its Finance Committee.

By Jim Wallace

A bill to take care of the retirement funds for employees of education service cooperatives has cleared the legislature and is headed to Gov. Jim Justice.

Senate Bill 26 would authorize fulltime employees of the cooperatives to be members of the Teachers Retirement System or the Teachers Defined Contribution System. The provisions of this bill were contained last year in House Bill 4219, which passed the House of Delegates but was not taken up in time by the Senate before the legislative session ended.

The House approved the bill Monday on a vote of 97 to zero. It had passed in the senate on February 12 on a vote of 34 to zero.

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 retirement systems. This bill would just confirm that they could continue in those retirement systems.

By Jim Wallace

Several education bills that made it through at least one committee died this week when they failed to make it through Crossover Day on Wednesday. They include bills to shorten the school calendar, allow homeschooled students to participate in extracurricular activities at public schools, raise school board members’ pay, increase the number of cooks schools would be required to employ, and lengthen the number of days retired teachers could serve as substitutes each year.

Crossover Day, the 50th day of the 60-day regular legislative session, was the deadline for each bill to pass out of its house of origin. In other words, with a few exceptions, House bills had to be passed by the House of Delegates and Senate bills had to be passed by the Senate no later than Wednesday to stay alive for the current legislative session. That means the House is concentrating on Senate-passed bills and the Senate is concentrating on House-passed bills for the rest of the session, which will end March 9.

Of course, the biggest bill that died in this year’s session was Senate Bill 451, the omnibus education bill, which took more time in committee meetings and Senate and House floor sessions than any other bill. After the Senate passed it, the House made major changes in it, and the Senate then changed it to be closer to the original Senate version before the House killed it by tabling it indefinitely last week.

Perhaps because the Senate invested so much of its education reform goals in that one, large bill, rather than in a series of smaller bills, the education bills sent to the legislative graveyard this week were House bills.

A bill that caused quite a stir after the House Education Committee passed it last week was House Bill 2433. It would have required 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. The bill also would have reduced 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 of the House Education Committee accepted amendments offered by Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, to make the changes. He even suggested House Bill 2433 could “end up being the landmark piece of education legislation for the session.”

The bill was on track to pass in the House as early as Tuesday, but the House Rules Committee, which is made up of the top leaders from both political parties, chose on Monday to take it off of the House’s active calendar and put it on the inactive calendar. That doomed it to the legislative landfill instead of becoming a legislative landmark.

“Tim Tebow Bill” almost survived.

House Bill 3127, which would have allowed homeschooled students and private school students to participate in public schools’ extracurricular activities, made it all the way to Crossover Day before the House defeated it on a vote of 46 to 52 after more than 67 minutes of debate. That followed more than 26 minutes of debate the previous day during which the House made a significant change in the bill. That, in turn, followed an unusual move by the House on Monday to discharge the bill from the House Education Committee, where it seemed to die last week.

It’s not unusual for delegates to offer motions to discharge bills from committees where they seem to be stuck, but it is unusual for such motions to be successful. The lead sponsor of House Bill 3127, Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, did get enough support for his motion on Monday to discharge the bill from the House Education Committee. Like similar bills offered in past years, this one has been nicknamed the Tim Tebow Bill after a homeschooled student in Florida who went on to success in college and professional football.

“People who don’t participate with their children in public schools are being prohibited from using public school facilities even though they pay their taxes for it.” – Delegate Larry Kump

Among the delegates who argued in favor of discharging the bill was Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley. “People who don’t participate with their children in public schools are being prohibited from using public school facilities even though they pay their taxes for it,” he said. “It’s a no-brainer. Vote for the bill.”

Ellington argued, “This is where it’s all about the students – kids that have grown up in their community with their fellow kids that are in public school that they’d like to participate with them at the same time. They may not be there for the educational part, for the didactic part for one reason or another, but they want to be there as extracurricular [participants].” Further, he said, the students would be required to maintain certain academic levels, so they couldn’t just drop out of public school and get back on school teams.

After the bill was up for consideration in the House, Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, offered an amendment to put in some changes that his committee failed to act on. Among those changes was one that would prevent private school students from participating in public school activities that are offered at their private schools. For example, a private school student couldn’t play on a public school’s basketball team if the private school had a basketball team, but if the private school did not have a football team, the student could play on a public school’s football team.

Another of Hamrick’s changes would have provided funding to public schools through the School Aid Formula by counting homeschooled students and private school students who participate in public school extracurricular activities as the rate of one-tenth of fulltime students. But Delegates Linda Longstreth and Mike Caputo, both D-Marion, offered an amendment to count such students at half the rate of fulltime students.

“This would help with their School Aid Formula to make it 50 percent instead of one-tenth,” Longstreth said. Hamrick opposed the change because of its cost, but Longstreth urged her colleagues to consider all the extracurricular activities such students might get into.

“That may sound very small to you, but you better think about all the activities that they may get involved in is very, very costly,” she said. “They want to play football. They want to play soccer. I mean, they could play more than one sport. They could be in any and all extracurricular activities. I think the schools need to be paid for this to help to support this if we’re going to do it at all.”

The House approved that change on a vote of 52 to 47. Delegate Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, said she was opposed to the bill until that change was made. She said the extra funding could be justified because it costs schools more to insure students for sports than just to study in classrooms. Hamrick said schools would receive about $2,000 for each homeschooled or private school student who would participate in extracurricular activities because of the change.

However, the despite the success in getting House Bill 3127 back up for consideration by the full House and in getting it changed to make it more appealing for certain delegates, the bill had a tougher time on Wednesday, Crossover Day.

Presenting the case for the bill, Hamrick told his colleagues, “Our taxpayer-funded system of free schools should be open to all children to enjoy access to all or any of the benefits that it offers.”

But the bill troubled many delegates, including Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson.

“If we do this, the only logical conclusion is that we must divorce these teams from the schools and have them be supported by the community, not by the schools. By contrast, if in fact they are school teams, then people who do not attend classes at the schools should not participate on them.” – Delegate John Doyle

“Are these teams school teams or community teams?” he asked. “If, indeed, we pass this bill, we are saying they are community teams, not school teams – the heck with school spirit, the heck with all kinds of things that go along with having these school sports teams. And I submit to you that, if we do this, the only logical conclusion is that we must divorce these teams from the schools and have them be supported by the community, not by the schools. By contrast, if in fact they are school teams, then people who do not attend classes at the schools should not participate on them.”

Doyle also argued the bill would exacerbate the problem in which schools recruit athletes from other schools.

But Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, countered Doyle’s main argument. “To whom do the schools belong?” he asked. “Do they belong to the community or are they a freestanding monolith? And if they do belong to the community, are they not there to serve all of the citizens – all of the residents – of that community? It would seem to me those schools need to serve the entire community.”

“I think this bill is a wonderful bill. Our students who go to private school and home school – they’re not second-class citizens.” – Delegate Tom Bibby

Other supporters said the bill would give private school and homeschooled students full access to activities that their family’s tax dollars are paying for. Delegate Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley, said, “I think this bill is a wonderful bill. Our students who go to private school and home school – they’re not second-class citizens.”

Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, argued that the amendment Longstreth and Caputo added to the bill made it more attractive. “You could provide greater funding for our schools simply based on the amendment that was made to this bill,” he said, adding that schools would be better able to afford certified athletic trainers because of it.

But arguing strongly against the bill was Delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, even though she homeschools her sons. She said the bill left too many questions about academic standards and student discipline.

“I think this is a favoritism bill, and we all talk about choice and freedom, and I don’t think it’s fair,” Walker said. “I don’t think it’s fair for the child who has to get up at five o’clock in the morning to get on the school bus. I don’t think it’s fair to the parent who has to make sure that that child has an extra snack because that child has been in the classroom for eight hours that day.”

Even though Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, is vice chairman of the House Education Committee, he also opposed the bill. “As a principal now, I do have a problem with someone representing my school who is not a student at my school,” he said. “I think there is a lack of control we would be able to have on that, and they could cast their school in a bad light, and I would have no repercussions for that student.”

At the end of the debate, the House rejected the bill with 46 delegates voting for it and 52 voting against it.

Several bills died more quietly.

Other bills failed much earlier in the legislative process. Among them was House Bill 3001, which would have increased compensation for county school board members. The House Education Committee approved it, but it had to go through the House Finance Committee, which declined to take it up.

If the bill had become law, the maximum compensation for board members would have increased from $160 per 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 have been $100.

Likewise, House Bill 3128 received the approval of the House Education Committee but failed to get through the House Finance Committee. It would have changed recommended guidelines for the number of school cooks per meal into mandatory ratios, setting the minimum ratio at one cook for every 110 meals prepared and served.

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

Another bill that failed to get through the House Finance Committee after getting approval from the House Education Committee was House Bill 2865, which would have changed School Aid Formula Step 7 allowances for dual credit, advanced placement and international baccalaureate courses.

Also failing to clear the House Finance Committee after getting approval from the House Education Committee was House Bill 2803. It would have permitted retired teachers to substitute teach as substitutes 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, gotten it approved by the state board and 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 House Education Committee that could cause problems with the Internal Revenue Service.

One more bill that received approval from the House Education Committee but not the House Finance Committee was House Bill 3063. It would have allowed people who homeschool their children or send them to private schools to get a personal income tax credit.

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 before approving the bill on a vote of 14 to 10.

Although all of these bills are dead for the current legislative session, certain provisions in those bills might yet be resurrected if legislators decide to amend them into relevant bills that are still alive. Thus, nothing is guaranteed to be dead until the legislature adjourns sine die at midnight on the evening of March 9.

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.