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April 12, 2013 - Volume 33 Issue 19

 

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

 


By Jim Wallace

June 20 will be more than West Virginia Day and the 150th anniversary of statehood. That also will be the day Senate Bill 359, the big education reform bill, will become law.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who proposed the original version of the bill, signed it into law this week surrounded by Democrats and Republicans, as well as representatives of labor and business. Just a few weeks ago, many of them were at odds over the bill, but by the time of the signing ceremony, none had a bad word for it.

“I’m extremely proud of the bill I am signing today. I believe it truly reforms our education system. Its changes are real, and it will improve the lives of our kids by focusing not only on the quantity but the quality of time our children spend in the classroom.” – Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin

Tomblin, who spent 17 years as president of the Senate before he became governor in 2010, said he has had the opportunity to work on some important legislation over the years. “But this one holds special meaning for all of us in this room, because it’s completely about our kids, the future of our state,” he said. “I’m extremely proud of the bill I am signing today. I believe it truly reforms our education system. Its changes are real, and it will improve the lives of our kids by focusing not only on the quantity but the quality of time our children spend in the classroom.”

The governor said the bill will accomplish five main goals:

  • All children will read at grade level by the end of the third grade;
  • High school graduates will be ready to enter the workforce upon graduation or make a seamless transition into college or vocational schools;
  • All students will be taught by great teachers;
  • Students will learn in a variety of ways; and
  • Public education will be delivered locally not by the state.

“This legislation will make changes in schools across the state,” Tomblin said. “It makes changes to ensure we’re actively preparing our kids for a successful future.”

Although much of the bill was based on the findings from an efficiency audit of the public education system, the governor said it also resulted from input from thousands of parents, teachers, business leaders and concerned citizens who attended public forums or called the governor’s office. He said the Legislature then improved it.

“Together, our legislators, teacher representatives, business and labor leaders, education advocates and our state board of education and our state superintendent of schools worked as a team to pass Senate Bill 359,” Tomblin said. “This bill made it to my desk because everyone involved shared one goal: We all wanted to do what was best for our kids. Well, I’m proud to say we did it.”

Although he called the bill “a huge step in the right direction,” the governor emphasized that it is just the beginning, a sentiment shared by several others who were present. Tomblin noted that he already has established Governor’s Commission on Middle Grades to better meet the needs of middle school students, has re-established the West Virginia Workforce Council to better align classroom learning with workplace needs, and has been working closely with the state board of education to improve the use of technology in classroom learning.

Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, said, “This bill is an example of what government can do when everybody sits down and works together for one common goal: what’s best for our kids. We did that.”

Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said “This was a true testament in leadership, not only from the governor and the Senate president and particularly my colleague from Wayne County, the speaker of the House. Thank you for being open-minded and meeting and meeting and meeting a number of times.”

State school board President Wade Linger called the signing of Senate Bill 359 “a milestone moment for education in West Virginia.” He said the bill doesn’t address every issue raised in the education audit, but it takes “bold steps” to make needed changes. Like Tomblin, he said, the state board did not wait for legislation to begin making changes recommended by the audit.

“We are already working to strengthen teacher education programs and directing professional development to support reading,” Linger said. “In addition, the board has formed the Commission on School District Governance and Administration to review the current governance structure of the 55 county boards of education and associated operational costs.”

Other steps he said the board has taken include creating efficiencies in the Regional Education Service Agencies and using them to decentralize the delivery of professional development, as well as implementing cross-counseling efforts to help students from middle school and up to establish better education and career paths. In addition, he said, the board is investigating a project to use technology to encourage more personalized learning.

“We will ensure that the necessary follow-through takes place for the benefit of our students.” – State school board President Wade Linger

“We will ensure that the necessary follow-through takes place for the benefit of our students,” Linger said.

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said the Senate made it a priority to get the bill moving and over to the House. Despite the many complaints that leaders of teachers’ unions had about the bill when the Senate was working on it, Kessler said the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia should get a round of applause for their efforts.

 

Labor and business leaders endorse the bill.

WVEA President Dale Lee thanked not only Tomblin, Kessler and Thompson but also Tomblin’s chief of staff, Rob Alsop, and his policy director, Hallie Mason. But Lee said West Virginia still must address other issues to fix the education system, including poverty, collaboration time for teachers and better pay for teachers.

“Let us remind ourselves that this is only the first step,” he said. “We roll up our sleeves and go back to the drawing board and we take care of these things, because it is for the greatest resource we have in West Virginia, and that is our children.”

“No one got everything they wanted, but everyone got something they wanted. We truly believe that the provisions in this bill are things that are going to help student achievement. And we also agree that this is only the beginning.” – Christine Campbell

Incoming AFT-WV President Christine Campbell thanked House and Senate leaders for their collaborative efforts in working through the bill. “No one got everything they wanted, but everyone got something they wanted,” she said. “We truly believe that the provisions in this bill are things that are going to help student achievement. And we also agree that this is only the beginning.”

Jan Vineyard of the West Virginia Business and Industry Council said it was notable that this was the first year that her organization had put education at the top of its list of legislative issues. “For the business community not to want to talk about taxes or job impact or something of that nature – for education to be the number one issue is a bold step for us,” she said. “We are thrilled to be at the table. We will be at the table from here on out on education. We want a great workforce, and education is the best gift you can leave your children.”

Brenda Nichols Harper of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce recalled working on legislation for the Governor’s Guaranteed Workforce program and called Senate Bill 359 “the Governor’s Future Guaranteed Workforce.”

If there was any intention of having the bill become effective on West Virginia Day, when the state will celebrate its sesquicentennial, no one mentioned it while it was being worked on. But with the governor’s signature, the bill becomes effective 90 days after its passage by the Legislature, and that just happens to be June 20.

 

 

By Jim Wallace

Barring unforeseen difficulties, the House of Delegates was on schedule to approve Senate Bill 663 today. That’s the bill called the West Virginia Feed to Achieve Act.

Unlike Senate Bill 359, the education reform bill that the Tomblin administration had worked on for months before the legislative session and introduced early in the session, Senate Bill 663 was entirely a legislative creation that came out late in the session. But some of its supporters believe its potential to improve student achievement is comparable to that of the big education reform bill, and even the governor believes that is possible.

The Feed to Achieve Act would require schools to make nutritious breakfasts and lunches available to all students. Each district would work with a nonprofit foundation to collect private contributions to pay for the food, but not for administrative or personnel expenses.

When the House Education Committee took up the bill early this week, state Supt. Jim Phares said that when he was still superintendent of the Randolph County schools, he was skeptical about an earlier effort to make meals available to all students at no cost.

“I was a doubting Thomas before. I didn’t think it would work.” – Supt. Jim Phares

“I was a doubting Thomas before,” he said. “I didn’t think it would work.”

But Phares said he soon realized the value of providing nutritious food to hungry students in reducing tardiness, absenteeism and the need for disciplinary measures.

 

Some doubts lingered.

However, a few delegates still had misgivings about the proposed program. “Are we putting too much of a burden on county schools to do things other than the teaching part?” Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, asked.

Legislative staff attorney Dave Mohr responded, “I think the answer is in the bill. You can do all the teaching of reading and math you want to, but if a kid is hungry, they’re not going to learn a subject.” He said that many schools already are having success with programs that provide free food to students. Phares added that the intent of the bill is not to “create some sort of monolithic bureaucracy” but to let schools be creative in addressing the problems.
           
Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, expressed the concern some people have had about Feed to Achieve. He said that, when the proposal first surfaced, many people did not question feeding students who really needed it, but some wondered why the schools should feed students whose parents could afford to provide them with good meals. Although he realized that one reason for not charging any students for meals is to minimize the stigma of free or reduced-cost meals, Espinosa said, “Perhaps we’re taking resources that could be used very well in another area and using them to feed children who don’t have the need.” He also asked if there were any concern that asking private entities to help fund the food programs might take money away from other worthy causes.

“Perhaps we’re taking resources that could be used very well in another area and using them to feed children who don’t have the need.” – Delegate Paul Espinosa

Phares said he couldn’t get into the minds of people who might contribute funding. But he said, “You can think of a thousand reasons why you can’t support this program. We’re only asking for one reason, and that is to help all the children.”

Other committee members were not hesitant at all about supporting the bill. Delegate Larry Williams, D-Preston, called it “really timely.” He said Preston County has a pilot program to get local pork and beef into the schools, and he hopes to see that effort expand statewide.

Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, said legislators could blame parents for not feeding the children and talk about making people accountable, “but we’re not the committee to do that. We’re the committee to look after these kids, and I think we should vote for this bill.”

The House Education Committee did support the bill, but before doing so, the committee amended it. As Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, later explained to the full House of Delegates, the amendment incorporates findings that were included in another bill. “It includes the benefits of physical activity along with healthy eating,” she said. “It includes a statement that the Legislature encourages county boards to examine the options available to improve student health and adopt a comprehensive policy that best meets the board’s needs.”

Although support for Senate Bill 663 already was strong, many legislators’ interest in it was strengthened further after a Monday evening showing of A Place at the Table, a documentary film about hunger in America. The next day, a House leader made a rare appearance before a Senate committee to express his support.

House Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, spoke to the Senate Select Committee on Children and Poverty, which originated the bill under the direction of its chairman, Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley. Boggs said he had been at one school in Nicholas County where every student in one class received a free or reduced-cost lunch. “It was a situation where they really had to struggle to try to find food for these kids to send home [on Fridays], because that was the last meaningful meal they were going to get until they came back to school on Monday,” he said.

Boggs said he appreciated the work that pastors, churches and civic groups do to help relieve hunger in much of West Virginia. “No matter how we try to paint the picture, no matter what we do, all these good efforts are not enough with the drastic increase in the amount of hunger and child hunger that we have,” he said. “And I think this is such a wonderful initiative.”

“I just think that we could really have the opportunity here to set a standard for the nation to look to us as a model.” – Delegate Brent Boggs

Like others, Boggs said, students can’t learn very well if they are hungry. “You can’t take a child that is in that kind of a situation that they don’t get adequate rest, they don’t get adequate food – the very building blocks,” he said. “I just think that we could really have the opportunity here to set a standard for the nation to look to us as a model.”

Boggs said he would do what he could as a legislative leader to help Senate Bill 663 get through the House of Delegates and not get lost in the rush of bills at the end of the 60-day session, because the problem with hunger is too big.

“It’s unthinkable that we have that in this country,” he said. “It’s unthinkable, and I think now we have people thinking about it.”

 

Filmmaker is pleased with legislators’ response.

The Senate committee also heard from Lori Silverbush, a co-director of A Place at the Table, who said she was moved by the response her film had received at the Capitol. She said West Virginia is not unusual in experiencing problems with hunger, because there is some hunger and food insecurity in every county in the United States.

“My eyes have been opened to the fact that you have leadership on this issue that far surpasses what many people would consider to be some of the more progressive states and the more advanced-thinking states on this issue,” Silverbush said. “Just the fact that you are looking at this issue with your hearts and your minds open and saying it’s time we get to the bottom of it puts you in your own category. And I’m very proud and excited to be part of it.”

The film is showing people around the nation that they have the opportunity to do something to reduce hunger, she said. It also taught her something.

“My biggest surprise when I set out to make this film was to learn that hunger is solvable,” Silverbush said. “I think we are all conditioned to believe that hunger, kind of like poverty, is one of those things like the Middle East – the problem will always be there. There’s not much we can do. The best we can hope for is to help a little bit here and there where we can, get involved with our own faith to help the suffering, but to solve it [is] probably not going to happen. And I couldn’t have been more wrong. That’s what I learned about hunger. It is solvable. It is one of those problems of our time that we know how to fix. This is not a mysterious disease where we first have to authorize the studies to find out what causes it. We know what causes hunger, and we know how to fix it. The way you fix it is with food.”

What she suggested is not without precedent. Silverbush said the United States had programs that greatly reduced hunger in the 1970s, but some of those programs were dismantled because of ideological shifts beginning in the 1980s. She said the tendency was to blame people for making poor choices in their lives, but the people doing the blaming didn’t look at the mosaic of issues that contributed to those choices and ask whether they really were choices.

Realizing that the hunger problem could be fixed helped motivate Silverbush and her co-director to complete the film, she said, because children who don’t get adequate nutrition will pay for it for the rest of their lives – and so will society. She decried a “vacuum of leadership” on the issue across the nation.

“West Virginia is actually already one of the states that is getting a lot of things right,” Silverbush said. “You have a greater participation in school breakfasts proportional to school lunch than most states. That is usually is a benchmark that is used to see how well programs are being administered.”

There are structural barriers in many states to seeing that students get breakfast at school, she said, but West Virginia has been breaking down those barriers and has become one of the top three states in getting children fed.

“West Virginia could end up being a bit of a petri dish and an example to the rest of the nation. You could be a leader in getting this thing right. And if you can get this thing right and get it studied and make sure that the impact of it is measured – because it is measurable – you could end up being the example that this nation is actually desperately looking for on how to get it right.” – Lori Silverbush

“West Virginia could end up being a bit of a petri dish and an example to the rest of the nation,” Silverbush said. “You could be a leader in getting this thing right. And if you can get this thing right and get it studied and make sure that the impact of it is measured – because it is measurable – you could end up being the example that this nation is actually desperately looking for on how to get it right.”

West Virginia is situated to set an example for other states, she said, because it is small enough and nimble enough and benefits from being a bit isolated to try something new. “That is something really useful for the nation,” Silverbush said. “We need this right now. So I urge you all to continue what you’re doing and know that you’re probably going to end up being held up as an example of what happens when leadership identifies a problem and sets out to solve it. And that example will have national consequences.”

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said that Silverbush’s film reminded him of his childhood with a single mother who was poor. He said that, as a physician, he is a bit conflicted, because he wants children to have more food, but the food many of his patients tend to get is fattening and not very nutritious. The film showed that someone doesn’t have to be skinny to have poor nutrition. Then he posed to Silverbush the argument critics of Feed to Achieve have offered: “A lot of folks are seeing this as a handout. What’s your response to that?”

Silverbush said about three quarters of families receiving some form of government food assistance have at least one working adult. One household shown in her film had four working adults, but their combined income was not enough to put nutritious food on the table consistently. That family had to rely on donations through their church, but the donated food tended to be what the food industry was throwing away and was not necessarily nutritious, she said.

So calling Feed to Achieve a handout is wrong, she said. “I do see it as a misnomer, because I don’t think it is the right way to characterize a program that is really an investment and should be considered more a nutrition program than a welfare program,” Silverbush said. “When fully 47 million Americans need to rely on some sort of charity food to make it despite the presence often of a working adult, it is no longer fair or accurate to characterize it as some sort of welfare or handout. It then becomes a nutrition program that is to supplement what a hard-working family is doing, and it is an investment in kids. I don’t believe we call free public education a handout, and I don’t think that we should call the food that we give kids so they can take advantage of that education a handout either.”

Stollings said something else in the film that impressed him is that there is no sliding scale for SNAP – the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that has replaced the old food stamp program. He noted that if a recipient is just one dollar over the income qualifications for SNAP, that recipient is cut off.

One single mother in the film did not want to be on welfare, because she thought it set a bad example for her children, but after she got a job, she and her children not only lost their SNAP benefits but the children no longer qualified for a subsidized day care where they received two nutritious meals each day. Silverbush said that situation is called “the Cliff Effect.” She said the nation would be served better by having a system in which benefits taper off instead of ending abruptly.

“I guess poverty is almost like a prison, and we also treat them the same way. Once you get a job, we think you’re done, so they kind of put you out, they shut the door and there you are with your bags, and there’s no reintegration back into society. And all of a sudden this Cliff Effect occurs.” – Sen. John Unger

Sen. Unger compared that situation to one that legislators are trying to address with a prison reform bill. Under the current system, inmates released from prison are suddenly set free with no effort to reintegrate them back into society. “I guess poverty is almost like a prison, and we also treat them the same way,” he said. “Once you get a job, we think you’re done, so they kind of put you out, they shut the door and there you are with your bags, and there’s no reintegration back into society. And all of a sudden this Cliff Effect occurs.”

Silverbush said it leads to cynicism and depression in many people. She said she hopes she can bring national attention to West Virginia’s Feed to Achieve program.

 

Sociology professor also calls West Virginia a leader for Feed to Achieve.

Unger’s committee also heard from Janet Poppendieck, a professor of sociology at Hunter College at the University of New York and author of books, including Free for All: Fixing School Food in American.

 “I’d like to bring the New York state legislature down here to take a look at how you get things done and maybe the United States Congress,” she said. “I’m impressed with the capacity of the West Virginia Legislature to actually act.”

Poppendieck congratulated West Virginia for already having one of the best school food programs in the United States. She said the state ranks third for school breakfasts and is the only state that prohibits a la carte meals.

After researching school food for more than a decade, Poppendieck said, she has come to think of the school cafeteria as the center of the world, because it is the intersection of education, health, family security, the economy and agriculture.

“One of the things that I particularly like about the Feed to Achieve legislation is that it requires educators to form partnerships with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Resources,” she said. “We need more collaboration. School food in the United States has really been in a kind of a silo.” - Janet Poppendieck

“One of the things that I particularly like about the Feed to Achieve legislation is that it requires educators to form partnerships with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Resources,” she said. “We need more collaboration. School food in the United States has really been in a kind of a silo.”

The quality of school food varies drastically from state to state, from district to district and from school to school, Poppendieck said. In social science, whenever outcomes vary drastically, she said, it indicates that problems could be solved and all outcomes could be raised to the level of the best ones.

“I think that what you’re looking to do with the Feed to Achieve legislation is to raise the performance in those districts that are not doing a good job of getting, for instance, breakfast participation to the level of the districts that are doing the best job,” Poppendieck said.

Her research has revealed that the best school meals are found in communities at the opposite ends of the economic spectrum: wealthy, suburban districts at one end and districts where almost all of the students are eligible for free meals at the opposite end. Poppendieck said schools with 30 percent to 50 percent participation rate in the free and reduced-cost meal program have a tougher time, because they must make meals they can sell to the so-called full-priced kids, although all meals are subsidized by the federal government. The subsidy for the full-priced meal is 30 percent cash and 20 percent commodities, she said, and the other 50 percent is eaten up just in the paperwork of administering the means test.

Since the early 1980s, when the federal subsidy for meals was cut across the board by one third, Poppendieck said, many schools have come to rely heavily on “bulk convenience food,” which comes in brown paper cartons and needs only to be defrosted and reheated. Many food service workers told her their major tool in the kitchen was a box cutter. She said that, when the per-meal subsidy was lowered and fewer students were able to get school lunches, food service workers had to take steps to reduce labor costs and lure customers back into the cafeteria by using “fast food clones” or what is sometimes called “carnival foods,” such as corn dogs, patties and nuggets.

“Whenever you see a monochromatic meal, you know that it’s not giving you the nutrients you need.” – Janet Poppendieck

A result of that effort is that many school meals have become virtually monochromatic, and golden, as in golden French fries, tend to be the single color, Poppendieck said. “Whenever you see a monochromatic meal, you know that it’s not giving you the nutrients you need,” she said.

Poppendieck congratulated West Virginia for adopting recommendations from the Institute of Medicine as soon as they were released. Among those recommendations are to serve deep green vegetables and red and yellow vegetables a certain number of times. She also congratulated West Virginia because 366 of its 695 schools have salad bars, which she said are the efficient, culturally welcome way to get kids to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

A problem schools face is that they must sell food to children who have been exposed to hundreds of hours of advertising for the nation’s least-healthy foods, which basically puts the advertisers in charge, Poppendieck said. West Virginia has a big advantage by being the only state that prohibits a la carte sales, which allow some students to substitute snack foods like chips for more nutritious items like vegetables, she said.

But Poppendieck is concerned that half of West Virginia’s children live in households with incomes below 200 percent of the poverty line, which she said is a level with hardships in food, housing and health.

The biggest obstacle children face in getting breakfast at school is not having it offered at school, she said, but that’s not a problem in West Virginia, where 100 percent of schools offer breakfast. “That doesn’t unfortunately mean that all kids who need breakfast in West Virginia are getting it,” Poppendieck said, but West Virginia does do well in getting free or reduced-cost breakfasts to 65 percent of the students who get free or reduced-cost lunches. That ranks the state behind only the District of Columbia and New Mexico. Poppendieck said that if West Virginia would reach New Mexico’s level of 70 percent, it would get another $1.4 million from the federal government.

“Another thing that I particularly like about your Feed to Achieve legislation is that you’re not assuming that one size fits all and that you’re asking the districts to create a plan to address low participation ratings,” she said.

Barriers to feeding students at lunchtime come from the school food means test and from selling food to kids with a three-tiered system of free, reduced-cost and full-price meals, Poppendieck said. That is a problem the Feed to Achieve program hopes to avoid by moving toward offering free food to all students.

“One problem is the stigma that when kids know there are three levels, they want to make sure that they are not seen as being in the poor kids’ group,” Poppendieck said. “A la carte aggravates the stigma thing, because kids get to flash their cash. Because you don’t have a la carte, I think you have less stigma than many states, but that doesn’t mean it goes away. And one of the things that I really love about your bill is the aspiration to move to universal free [meals] to feed children as a regular part of the school day integrated with the curriculum. I think it’s far off, but I think it’s terrific that you have it.”

Beyond the stigma, another problem in providing free or reduced-cost meals to children is that the means test is very prone to errors, she said. Poppendieck cited a recent student by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that found one-third of students were erroneously denied benefits. She said part of the problem is that schools never were set up to administer means test. By contrast, she said, offices full of people working fulltime figure out whether families are eligible for SNAP benefits, but schools try to administer means tests just once a year, and it’s counter to their culture.

“This whole process is error prone, and when you achieve universal free school meals, you will be eliminating that error, and it will not only help kids who need the meals and are erroneously being denied them now, but it will help the whole atmosphere and reputation of the program,” Poppendieck said.

Even when the certification process is 100 percent accurate, it still can deny meals to students who need them, she said, because the cutoff for reduced-price meals at 185 percent of the poverty level is a hard limit. “There are kids in need who are going without, because we have created this crazy three-tiered system,” Poppendieck said. “So as you roll out your Feed to Achieve legislation, you need to think about are you going to wait and save up the money until you can do universal or are you going to address the needs of the kids who are in that over-the-cutoff level.”

Access and quality issues are deeply related, she said, because the higher the participation rate the lower the unit cost of delivering a meal.” Consequently, when the unit cost is lower, the quality of meals can improve, because that leaves more money to go into food and to purchase from local suppliers, Poppendieck said.

“I’d like to get you to think about what school food could be…if we did with school food what we have typically done with transportation,” she said. If parents say they can afford to pay for their kids’ food, Poppendieck said, ask if they want to be billed for bus transportation and then point out that it would cost the system money to do that, because that would require applications and someone to process them.

“We need to integrate healthy eating with our curriculum, and we can’t do it if the cafeteria is only for some of the kids,” she said. “I think school food could be a unifying factor in our schools. It could be a time that brings the community together but not if we have this stratification by who’s rich enough and who’s not. So I encourage you to think about democracy, about community and about hospitality as the way in which school food could function. And the school meals of the future got started right here in West Virginia.”

Unger said that under Feed to Achieve, no child would be denied food.

 

Gov. Tomblin likes Feed to Achieve bill.

Although the Feed to Achieve program came from the Legislature and not the administration, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said this week he is cautiously supportive of it with his caution coming from his traditional concern about being careful about spending money.

“One problem is the stigma that when kids know there are three levels, they want to make sure that they are not seen as being in the poor kids’ group.” – Janet Poppendieck

“It’s great,” he said. “A lot of counties are already doing that. We all know that children have to have nourishment. They have to have a full stomach if they’re going to reach their potential as far as learning. Obviously, we just need to make sure we’ve got the money to afford it. Wherever possible, I think it’s a great idea.”

Some people, including Sen. Unger, have suggested that Feed to Achieve could do as much to improve student achievement as Tomblin’s education reform bill, and the governor is open to that possibility.

“Absolutely, because we have so many children that are coming to school with no food or no breakfast,” Tomblin said. “I think there has been some stigma over the years about whether or not to use those programs. If we can afford it, I think it would be a great way to help improve student achievement.”

 

 

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Legislature completed work this week on several bills affecting public education and sent them to the governor for his approval. Among them are a bill proposed by the West Virginia School Board Association.

House Bill 2940 would require regional meetings to be held among certain officials of county boards of education every two years. The meetings would be held among officials from districts within the areas of the same Regional Education Service Agencies. The Senate approved the bill on a 34-0 vote and sent it to the governor.

Other bills sent to the governor after having been approved by both chambers include:

  • Senate Bill 430, which would add a definition of “employment term,” adds a new section relating to correction of errors and makes a technical corrections in Teachers Defined Contribution Retirement System.
  • House Bill 2729, which would allow epinephrine auto-injectors to be maintained in schools for emergency treatment administration during anaphylactic reactions.
  • House Bill 3159, which would provide Innovation Zone exemptions for the Monroe County schools and Nicholas County schools. Monroe County would be exempted to allow the compulsory attendance age to go up from 17 to 18 as part of a countywide dropout prevention initiative. Nicholas County would receive an exemption to erase up to two unexcused absences per semester from a student’s attendance record and not be used toward the initiation of enforcement actions if the student successfully completes the county’s Saturday instruction program.
  • Senate Bill 80, which would include substitute teaching on at least three instructional days each school year as a job duty for certain professional educators employed by county boards of education in county boards’ central offices. All certified personnel except the superintendent would be included.

Although that last bill got through the House of Delegates, it did have opposition from one-fifth of the members. Leading the opposition was Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson.

“While I certainly don’t object to county administrators assisting with substitute teaching responsibilities in school, as it was pointed out in the House Education Committee, there’s nothing in current law that would preclude a school district from determining that they have adequate staffing to assist with this particular purpose.” – Delegate Paul Espinosa

“While I certainly don’t object to county administrators assisting with substitute teaching responsibilities in school, as it was pointed out in the House Education Committee, there’s nothing in current law that would preclude a school district from determining that they have adequate staffing to assist with this particular purpose,” he said. “Again, while I would not object to administrators assisting with this, I think requiring our school districts to do this, sending this requirement from the state

level, I think it goes against many of the initiatives that we’ve undertaken this session to decentralize our school system and to empower our local school districts.”

The vote in the House to approve the bill was 78-20 with two members absent.

 

Some bills have short way to go.

Other bills were close to passage as Saturday, the final day of the 60-day regular session, draws closer.

In the House, Senate Bill 623, which would allow some funding for the support of children with high acuity needs to also be used to fund probation officers needed to address truancy, was scheduled for its third and final reading today. But the House Education Committee amended the bill, so for the bill to go to the governor, the Senate either must accept the House amendment or the two chambers will have to work out their differences in a conference committee.

“This amendment allows counties to apply for grants through the Dropout Prevention and Recovery Innovation Zone Fund to reimburse them one half the cost of a truancy probation officer employed under a program offered through the circuit court,” House Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour, told her colleagues. “It is similar to language passed by this House in House Bill 3157 but provides a funding source.”

In the Senate, several bills were in position to pass today or Saturday. One of them, House Bill 2360, would make sure that school districts would not be penalized if their county assessors would fail to assign the right values to taxable property. That provision of penalizing school districts for assessors’ problems would go into effect July 1 if this bill does not become law.

But there are differences in the approaches of the House and the Senate that would have to be resolved for the bill to become law. The House version of the bill included language saying “the Legislature finds that it is the duty of county assessors to assess property taxes as required by law and it is the duty of the Tax Commissioner to oversee them to ensure that the obligations for providing a thorough and efficient education for the children of the county are not diminished by the under assessment of property taxes.” The Senate Education Committee removed that wording and substituted language that would use the March actual assessment figures in calculating local share estimates beginning in fiscal year 2015, but the rest of the bill would go into effect as planned this coming fiscal year.

According to Patti Hamilton, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Counties, Plymale planned to amend the bill on the Senate floor. She said the proposed amendment would define noncompliance as covering two consecutive years, which would give assessors another year to correct assessments before any negative effects would be imposed.

Another bill scheduled for second reading in the Senate is House Bill 2470, which would provide sign support specialists or educational sign language interpreters in the education of exceptional children.

“This is a bill we’ve been working on for about three years. We thought we had something worked out last year and were not able to. The House decided to take this up first and send it over to us, but this is one that we looked at in the interims and discussed a couple times.” – Sen. Bob Plymale

“This is a bill we’ve been working on for about three years,” Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said. “We thought we had something worked out last year and were not able to. The House decided to take this up first and send it over to us, but this is one that we looked at in the interims and discussed a couple times.”

The Education Committee heard from one member of the public who expressed concern about allowing a sign support specialist to be assigned to a deaf student if a sign language interpreter were not available, but her concerns did not stop the committee from approving the bill. The cost of the bill is projected to be only $20,000. The bill was scheduled to receive the second of its three required readings in the Senate today.

Also scheduled for second reading in the Senate today is House Bill 2727, which would restrict the additional percentage allowance for school buses using alternative fuels to those using compressed natural gas or propane. It also would reduce the cap on the foundation allowance for Regional Education Service Agencies by 7.5 percent, which reflects the budget cuts that Gov. Tomblin asked most state agencies to make.

Tomblin proposed the bill, but the House amended it to ease the transition for districts that have been using biodiesel fuel in their buses. When it arrived in the Senate, the Education Committee amended it again to return it to its original version. As Plymale explained, “At the present time, if we would run the budget, we would have a $4 million deficit in the budget with where they are sweeping the account of this. This is a subsidy that has been for a number of years.”

Hank Hagar, an attorney for the committee, said that districts have been getting an extra 10 percent reimbursement from the state for using biodiesel, but the Senate amendment would limit such subsidies to compressed natural gas and propane. Plymale said districts that converted to using biodiesel several years ago should have recovered the costs of that shift by now.

Because the Senate version of House Bill 2727 differs from the House version, the two chambers would have to work out their differences in a conference committee unless the House accepts the Senate’s changes if the bill is to get through the legislative process by midnight Saturday evening.

Another bill in similar position with second reading in the Senate scheduled today is House Bill 3157, which would repeal numerous outdated, overly prescriptive or ineffective sections of code dealing with public education. Plymale said some of those provisions go back to 1923.

The bill also would make a few changes in the new education reform law resulting from Senate Bill 359, which Gov.Tomblin signed into law this week. It would delay until July 2014 the implementation of school calendar provisions in the new law, instead of allowing them to go into effect this year. Plymale explained that the changes are just a practical consideration. For example, he said, there is no way any district could conceivably hold two required public hearings between now and July 1 to implement a new calendar for the 2013-2014 school year.

Plymale said even Cabell County, which is the district considered by many to be the closest to adopting a balanced – or year-round – calendar, would not be ready to implement a new calendar until 2014. He also said that, even though the law would require only two public hearings before making such a change in the school calendar, some districts would need more than that just to be fair in reaching all district residents.

The decision to make the changes came out of meetings Plymale and Poling had with the governor’s office and leaders of teachers’ unions.

Among other provisions of the bill is one that would reimburse a district that enters into a truancy program agreement with a circuit court for half the cost of a probation officer. Also, effective July 1, 2014, the bill would reduce the percentage of the increase in local share that is to be added to the appropriation for instructional improvement from 15 percent to 10 percent. In addition, effective July 1, 2013, it would limit the use of instructional improvement funds for personnel until the state superintendent determines a district has enough technology systems specialists.

Again, House Bill 3157 could get the Senate’s approval by the end of the session Saturday, but the Senate and the House would have to resolve differences in the bill for it to become law.

Other bills scheduled for second reading in the Senate today were:

  • House Bill 2764, which would allow assistant attendance directors to perform just about all the duties of attendance directors.
  • House Bill 3160, which would establish a five-year pilot initiative on governance of schools jointly established by adjoining counties. It is aimed at Lewis and Gilmer counties, which are entering into an agreement to share an elementary school near their border.
  • House Bill 2861, which would allow an at-risk student to be considered as still enrolled at a public school even while attending an alternative program.
  • House Bill 2265, which would require protocols for responding to sports injuries occurring on school grounds after normal school hours.

 

Resolutions could lead to legislation in future years.

At the end of the legislative session, when it becomes clear that some issues will not be addressed adequately by bills that will become law, committees pass resolutions calling for those issues to receive further study during the monthly interim meetings that legislators hold between their regular sessions. The House Education Committee approved several such resolutions this week. Staff attorney Dave Mohr said a few of them are related to House Bill 3157, which was altered in the Senate, and House Bill 3158, which died.

House Bill 3158’s purpose was to require the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability to examine and report annually on the results of efforts to address several areas related to the education efficiency audit and general progress on improving public education. The six areas are:

  1. Better connecting education and the workforce;
  2. Enhancing career and technical education;
  3. Enhancing the flexibility and authority of local school systems and schools to meet the state’s educational objectives for student achievement;
  4. Improving the operational efficiency of West Virginia’s public elementary and secondary school system;
  5. Performance and progress of students on the state summative assessment, other state mandated assessments and the National Assessment of Educational Progress;
  6. Requiring the state board to report to LOCEA its exit plan from any county that has been under state take-over for five years; and
  7. Establishing a comprehensive career development system for professional educators.

The two resolutions related to House Bill 3158 call for studying the connection between education and the workforce and studying educator development.

House Bill 3157, which is still in the legislative process, as noted above, would repeal outdated, ineffective or overly prescriptive sections of state code. But the Senate made changes in the bill, so another resolution from the House Education Committee would have legislators study local flexibility provisions that were in the original version of the bill.

“It tracks some of the issues that were raised in the audit, specifically that the RESAs have become very entrepreneurial in seeking out other kinds of business to get into in training that aren’t necessarily related to their core mission of serving the counties that are members of the RESA.” – Dave Mohr

 

Another resolution approved by the committee was recommended by the West Virginia School Board Association’s Education Efficiency Audit Response Team. As Mohr explained to committee members, “It tracks some of the issues that were raised in the audit, specifically that the RESAs have become very entrepreneurial in seeking out other kinds of business to get into in training that aren’t necessarily related to their core mission of serving the counties that are members of the RESA.” The resolution seeks for legislators to look at the governance structure and history of RESAs, he said, because about a decade ago, a statute made each RESA executive director an employee of the state board. Consequently, Mohr said, the districts have come to believe the RESAs are less responsive to the counties.

After the WVSBA’s Education Efficiency Audit Response Team, which is led by Mercer County school board President Greg Prudich, was contacted by a member of the House Education Committee, the team expressed school boards’ concerns in a letter. Some language from that letter became the basis for the resolution. The team has presented some of those concerns previously in legislative meetings. In addition, the WVSBA is on record as wanting more legislative funds to be directed to RESAs so they can serve school districts better.

The Senate Education Committee also approved two resolutions calling for studies during interim meetings. One would study the funding of public libraries in the wake of a Supreme Court decision that some long-established laws requiring certain school boards to fund public libraries are no longer valid.

The other resolution calls for studying privately owned, licensed group residential facilities receiving public funds for housing and treating students who are attending public schools. Plymale said Sen. Donald Cookman, D-Hampshire, brought the issue to his attention after becoming concerned about a facility in his home county. “This is a pretty complicated and complex issue that I think we really need to study from a statewide perspective,” Plymale said.

 

 

The West Virginia Board of Education has created a new Commission on School District Governance and Administration that includes a representative of school boards.

The commission will review the current governance structure of the 55 county boards of education and their costs.

“As part of the education transformation in our state, it will be important to figure out ways our county school boards and administrations can share goods and services across county lines,” state board President Wade Linger said. “If we do this right, students will be the benefactors.”

State board member Tom Campbell, a former chairman of the House Education Committee, will serve as the chairman of the commission. Representing school boards on the commission will be Kathy Parker, a member of the Braxton County school board and treasurer of the West Virginia Parent-Teacher Association.

Other members include:

  • Tina Combs of the state board;
  • Sallie Dalton, Greenbrier County superintendent;
  • Doug Lambert, Pendleton County superintendent;
  • Karen Price, president of the West Virginia Manufacturers Association;
  • Jack Rossi, managing partner of Arnett Foster Toothman, PLLC;
  • Harry G. "Chip" Shaffer, attorney at Shaffer & Shaffer;
  • Bill Smith, Cabell County superintendent;
  • Newt Thomas, a retired executive from ITT Carbon Industries; and
  • Dana Waldo, senior vice president and general manager of West Virginia Frontier Communications.

“We have gathered a group of really talented and caring individuals who are dedicated to improving student achievement in West Virginia public schools,” Campbell said. “I am looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting to work.”

The work of the commission will be part of the state board’s newly formed Local and Regional Efficiencies Committee.

For more information, contact the Office of Communication at (304) 558-2699.

 

Editor’s Note – Jim Wallace is a former government reporter for theCharleston 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.

 

By Christine Galusha

Media Report for Thursday, April 11, 2013

 

Low Performing Schools to Get Help
http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201304110183

 

Fayette County Schools: Phares’ Shift in Direction not Popular with Everyone
http://www.register-herald.com/todaysfrontpage/x2015924998/Fayette-County-Schools-Phares-shift-in-direction-not-popular-with-everyone

 

Solutions for Raleigh Dropout Rates Sought at Public Forum
http://www.register-herald.com/todaysfrontpage/x2015924990/Solutions-for-Raleigh-dropout-rates-sought-at-public-forum

 

United Technical Center Receives Donation from Dominion
http://www.wboy.com/story/21947307/united-technical-center-receives-donation-from-dominion

 

Band Students Preparing for Big Show
http://www.wchstv.com/newsroom/eyewitness/130411_15262.shtml

 

Brooke’s Young Writers Honored
http://www.hsconnect.com/page/content.detail/id/585202/Brooke-s-young--writers-honored.html?nav=5010

 

School Board Chief: Department Not Bloated, Despite $750K Audit’s Claims
http://www.wvgazette.com/News/politics/201304100211

 

Tomblin Signs Wide Ranging Education Bill
http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201304100153

 

State Teacher Wins Character Educator Award
http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201304110034

 

Comment Sought on State Teacher Evaluations
http://www.wvgazette.com/News/201304110026

 

West Virginia BOE Names Members of Commission on School District Governance and Administration
http://www.exponent-telegram.com/news/press_releases/article_2034fb84-a218-11e2-a9f3-001a4bcf887a.html

 

Bridgeport High Grad Pens Novel Due Out May 7
http://www.exponent-telegram.com/article_b9132eda-a2c6-11e2-bfe6-001a4bcf887a.html

 

Fayette County School Board Concerns
http://woay.com/News.aspx?nid=6346

 

B.O.E.  Approves Trip Requests
http://www.tylerstarnews.com/page/content.detail/id/509106/B-O-E--approves-trip-requests.html?nav=5008

 

Glenville State Hosts Gear Up, Hidden Promise Program Students
http://www.wboy.com/story/21935982/glenville-state-hosts-gear-up-hidden-promise-program-students

 

UHS Teacher, County Commissioner Suing Monongalia County Board of Education
http://www.wboy.com/story/21945290/uhs-teacher-commissioner-suing-monongalia-county-board-of-education

 

Author Speaks to Area Students
http://www.newsandsentinel.com/page/content.detail/id/572883/Author-speaks-to-area-students.html?nav=5061