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January 19, 2018 - Volume 38 Issue 2

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has begun work this year by taking up legislation that failed to clear the West Virginia Legislature in past years. Included in that legislation are two controversial issues. One is a proposed constitutional amendment that would provide for most members of the state school board to be elected by West Virginia voters and give the legislature more oversight over the state board and Department of Education. The other is a bill that would dismember the Department of Education and the Arts and give some of its functions to the Department of Education, which is separate, and put other agencies elsewhere in the executive branch.

On House Joint Resolution 103 to set up the election for the proposed constitutional amendment, the committee voted strictly along party lines. Republicans argued that voters should have a say in who serves on the state school board, and the legislature should have more authority over the policies the board adopts. But Democrats argued that electing board members would give too much influence to special interests with lots of money to pour into elections.

The board currently has 12 members. Nine of them are appointed by the governor to nine-year, staggered terms. The other three serve in non-voting, ex-officio positions on the board because of their jobs as the state school superintendent, the chancellor of the Higher Education Policy Commission and the chancellor of Community and Technical College Education. The proposed amendment would keep the ex-officio members but reduce the voting members to six and have them elected to four-year terms. However, the amendment would not specify how they would be elected, such as statewide or by districts. That would be left for the legislature to determine in its 2019 regular session through legislation that would establish new general law.

“If this is put on the ballot, we will be asking the people of this state to vote for something that they aren’t really sure what they’re getting because it won’t be completed until the general law section is adopted,” Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh, argued. “Have you heard of a pig in a poke? Could that possibly fit?”

Moye also complained that the amendment would inject too much politics into education.

“In the past, I sponsored legislation to do this, but being the good Baptist that I am, I have repented.” – Delegate Rick Moye

“In the past, I sponsored legislation to do this, but being the good Baptist that I am, I have repented,” he said. “I see the impact that money can have on education through electing our board members. A statewide race is expensive. This will inject politics and influence – influence to the people that can afford most to donate to those running for these positions. They may or may not be in the best interests of our children. I don’t want to see our children subject to politics and the whims of change.”

But Republicans argued for having elected school board members. Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, said politics already are involved in the system.

“The question is not whether we’re going to politicize this process. The question is who’s in charge of it, politically speaking.” – Delegate Marshall Wilson

“Does it seem to you that political appointments would be political?” he asked “The question is not whether we’re going to politicize this process. The question is who’s in charge of it, politically speaking.”

Wilson argued that the people should be able to vote for school board members. “Considering the fact it’s their money we’re spending and it’s their children who are being educated, I encourage passage of the motion,” he said.

Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, said South Carolina elects some state school board members and appoints others, suggesting that such a system works well.

“I’m not wild about changing the current board,” he said. “I think all of us are kind of satisfied with what’s going on over there. I know it feels much more comfortable now than it did four years ago, but we’re not going to have that situation four years from now possibly.”

Cooper added that West Virginia, which has had appointed board members for many years, ranks near the bottom of the country in student achievement. He suggested the low level of performance might be linked to the way the system is set up.

Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, said he likes the idea of changing to an elected state board. To address the concerns about the cost of running in statewide elections, he said, the members could be elected from six regions of the state. He added that the legislature could provide that the board would include educators, if that were desired.

“I think this is a better way to go,” Folk said.

In regard to the other part of the proposed constitutional amendment, Heather Hutchins, general counsel for the Department of Education, said it would give the legislature the same authority to adopt, reject or modify state school board policies that it now has for higher education policies. “All the current options it has with higher education, it would give that same purview to public education,” she said.

Because public education has specific protections in the West Virginia Constitution, state board policies have not been subject to the same oversight, but Moye argued that the legislature already has some oversight authority. If the state board would do something legislators don’t like, legislators could pass a law to reverse it, he said.

The House Education Committee voted 13 to eight to approve the resolution and send it on to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration. Delegates who voted for it included: Joe Statler, R-Monongalia; Martin Atkinson, R-Roane; Roy Cooper, R-Summers; Mark Dean, R-Mingo; Folk; Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam; William Romine, R-Doddridge; Ruth Rowan, R-Hampshire; Jill Upson, R-Jefferson; Danny Wagner, R-Barbour; Steve Westfall, R-Jackson; and Wilson.

Those voting against the resolution included: Jeff Campbell, D-Greenbrier; Ed Evans, D-McDowell; Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell; Moye; Rodney Pyles, D-Monongalia; Ralph Rodighiero, D-Logan; Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha; and Robert Thompson, D-Wayne. Four committee members were absent.

WVSBA remains neutral on electing state board members.

So far, the West Virginia School Board Association’s Executive Committee has chosen to take no “immediate position” on the proposed constitutional amendment. On Wednesday, the committee received findings of a comprehensive survey of members of county school boards about several aspects of state board operations, as well as such issues as whether to have election of state board members or a mixture of elected and appointed members on the state board. Respondents also were asked about reducing the length of state board members’ terms and whether all or some state board rules should be subject to legislative oversight.

After reviewing the survey findings, including issues not connected to state board restructuring, the Executive Committee directed WVSBA Executive Director Howard M. O’Cull, Ed.D., to prepare a white paper on state school board restructuring that would be “informed” by the survey results. He is to fashion the white paper in a question-and-answer format. The completed document is to explore the topic and include various issues that should be considered on each issue regarding the restructuring of the state board.

The white paper will be available on WVSBA’s website after the Executive Committee determines it is ready to be released to legislators and others interested in public education.

O’Cull said 136 of West Virginia’s 275 county school board members responded to the survey. He said the percentage of response makes its credible for an online survey.

The WVSBA Executive Committee includes: Barbara L. Parsons, Ed.D. (Monongalia), president; Scotty M. Miley (Grant), president-elect; Lori E. Kestner (Marshall), vice president; Ryan White (Kanawha), financial officer; and Sam Sentelle, Ed.D. (Putnam), immediate past president. Jim Crawford (Kanawha), who was WVSBA president in fiscal year 2016, serves an adviser to the Executive Committee.

Restructuring bill divides delegates.

Based on members’ comments, the House Education Committee also seemed to be split along party lines for House Bill 4006, which would eliminate the Department of Education and the Arts. But the voice vote to approve the bill did not provide a breakdown of who favored it and who opposed it.

The bill is similar to one considered last year. The stated purpose of the bill – “to improve the focus on school-level continuous improvement processes led by the principal” – gives only a hint of its breadth. In addition to dissolving the Department of Education and the Arts, the bill would move the Center for Professional Development to the Department of Education and distribute other agencies through different parts of state government.

“The bill goes so far beyond education that it’s just amazing,” Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said. “We’re reorganizing the executive branch. We’re sending [the Division of] Culture and History to [the Department of] Commerce. We are making huge changes in the face of state government. We’re eliminating the voice for the arts. The first thing to go always when people cut money is the arts. Just get rid of it.”

The governor’s cabinet should have someone who advocates for the arts, he said, adding that voting for the bill would be voting against the arts.

Rowe said the bill is so sweeping in reorganizing state government that it should go through the House Government Organization Committee, and not just the House Education Committee, before being sent to the House Finance Committee and then the full House of Delegates. He said he likewise was surprised last year when a similar bill did not go through the House Government Organization Committee. But those weren’t the only problems he found with the bill.

“This bill has multiple subjects. It’s unconstitutional, and there’s a reason for the constitutional requirement that you consider one item at a time.” – Delegate Larry Rowe

“This bill has multiple subjects,” Rowe said. “It’s unconstitutional, and there’s a reason for the constitutional requirement that you consider one item at a time.”

One aspect he liked about the bill is the proposed move of the Center for Professional Development to the Department of Education. “I’d like to be able to vote for that,” he said.

But that change for the Center for Professional Development concerned Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell. “My dad said, ‘Boy, if you do something, do it with fidelity. The CPD…does stuff with fidelity. I have been in that program. I’ve been a part of it. I know what it did for me, and I just hope that the state board of education can do it with fidelity.”

Evans also asked, “How do you vote against the arts?” He said his school lost its band and its drama department, and he won’t vote for any cutbacks in funding the arts. “All the arts we have is what the teacher can afford to buy out of her own pocket with string and crayon and white paper,” he said.

Another delegate opposed to the bill, Rodney Pyles, D-Monongalia, said, “It requires more amendments than I have time to write.” Likewise, Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said, “Simply put, we all know there’s a better way to do this.”

“I do believe that this committee is doing its due diligence.” – Delegate Joe Statler

But one of the bill’s sponsors, Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, said the only funding the bill would cut is for the position of secretary of the Department of Education and the Arts. He said voting for the bill would not be voting against the arts. Further, he said, the bill would be considered further in the House Finance Committee and then by the full House of Delegates, so any flaws in the bill should get worked out before it would go to the Senate. “I do believe that this committee is doing its due diligence,” he said.

Another supporter of the bill, Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, said the cabinet-level position of secretary of the Department of Education and the Arts should never have been created. It was created almost three decades ago as part of the massive reorganization of state government led by Gov. Gaston Caperton. His intention was to consolidate the Department and Education and other agencies into the Department of Education and the Arts, but voters defeated a constitutional amendment that would have cleared the way for that change. Since then, many legislators have talked about eliminating the Department of Education and the Arts, but legislation to do it never got passed.

Folk paraphrased a quotation from Ronald Reagan, who said, “A government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.” He then added, “For once, we’re going to end that concept. It’s been in place for almost 30 years.”

The House Education Committee’s approval of House Bill 4006 sent it on to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.

Other education bills move forward.

The Education Committee this week approved two other bills that are similar to bills that failed in the legislative process last year. One was House Bill 3089, which is much like bills that passed the House not only last year but also in 2016 before they failed to get through the Senate.

The bill is designed to begin the transition to the county level the process for adopting instructional resources. Any resource, such as a textbook, would have to include at least 80 percent of the required standards for the subject. The bill also would require the wholesale list price to be no more than the lowest list price available in any school district in any other state, and electronic versions would have to carry the same cost as the printed versions. To comply with the bill’s provisions, a county school board would have to a policy on how to put together a selection committee.

“I think it’s a little bit more flexibility for counties that like to deal directly with the vendors and have access to other things without having to ask for permission.” – Dave Mohr

“I don’t see it as a big change,” Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the committee said. “I think it’s a little bit more flexibility for counties that like to deal directly with the vendors and have access to other things without having to ask for permission.”

But Moye wondered if the county school districts could handle the selection of instructional resources on their own. “The state board has more resources and is better equipped to vet the material than the counties would, and the counties were being okayed to use other materials anyway,” he said. “I’m wondering: What problem are we trying to fix here?”

Referring to what he was told by the bill’s sponsors, Mohr said, “The counties would like a little more flexibility, particularly some of the larger ones.”

However, Rowe had another concern. “Isn’t it true that the 20 percent exception would allow you to have non-science in a science textbook?” he asked. “Is there any standard in here that would allow the state board to say, that’s not science – you know, teaching that evolution doesn’t exist and the earth has been here for 5,000 years?”

Mohr replied, “What is not covered in that textbook you have to cover by some other means with your students in that course. If there’s something in the textbook that is very different than what’s in our standards, then the teachers would have to skip that.”

Folk supported the bill for allowing more local control. “And more importantly, it would allow teachers to maybe possibly use initiative to get a good quality textbook in their classroom,” he said.

“That’s a fair statement,” Mohr said. “It’s intended to be more flexible for counties to identify and purchase what they want for their county.”

Asked whether it is possible now for school districts to choose their own materials, Associate Supt. Clayton Burch said districts that want materials not on the list approved by the state committee must ask the state for waivers, which sometimes can take 18 to 20 months. He said the bill would allow districts “to now have that process in their hands and make those decisions themselves to what they want on that list.”

Moye pointed out there is an effort to get more alignment in learning between the public schools and higher education. So he wondered if having counties adopt their own materials might hinder that.

Burch, replied, “Well, the material would be vetted, but instead of by our experts, it could be vetted by their experts.” Some districts now are working with higher education on 12th-grade math courses, he said, and they could have an easier time adopting primary resources. He said there are some non-negotiable elements, such as avoiding discrimination or bias in texts, and they would continue to be prohibited. Also, he said, the department would continue to create the rubrics and tools the districts could use.

Statler asked, “Have county superintendents and instructional people at the county level reached out to you, as they have me, asking for more flexibility in the materials they could choose from?”

“They’ve been very clear that they do want more flexibility in what they can choose.” – Clayton Burch

“For several years, yes,” Burch said. “They’ve been very clear that they do want more flexibility in what they can choose.”

The committee approved House Bill 3089 on a voice vote. At least one member voted against it. The bill was scheduled for the second of two required readings before the full House of Delegates today, so the House could pass it as early as Monday.

The other bill that got through the House Education Committee this week is House Bill 2799. Except for few changes, it is basically the same bill the House approved on March 27, 2017. That bill received approval from the Senate Education Committee but died when it failed to get a third reading in the Senate. The bill would remove requirements in the process for a 14-year-old or 15-year-old to get a work permit. It would prohibit the superintendent of schools from requiring the student to get a physical exam unless the exam is required by the employer.

The committee approved House Bill 2799 and sent it to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

By Jim Wallace

West Virginia’s state spending on public education is declining while flexibility in using state funds is increasing for county school districts, according to the Department of Education officials who presented the department’s budget proposal to legislators this week. State Supt. Steve Paine and others from the department presented their proposed budget to the House Finance Committee and the Senate Finance Committee over the past few days. They were scheduled to present it to the House Education Committee today.

“The real good news this year is that we’re requesting $20.4 million less than we requested last year, and that’s primarily due to declining enrollment.” – Supt. Steve Paine

“The real good news this year is that we’re requesting $20.4 million less than we requested last year, and that’s primarily due to declining enrollment,” Paine told legislators. He said another reason for the lower budget request is that the legislature got rid of Regional Education Service Agencies and the Office of Education Performance Audits. The RESAs had been budgeted for $3.4 million and OEPA was budgeted for $1.1 million, he said.

Paine said he has noticed two other big changes between his first service as state superintendent from 2005 to 2011 and his current service, which began last April. One is that jobs have changed and the prerequisite skills for jobs have changed, which affects how students should be educated, he said. For example, he said, in Maryland, Texas and Colorado, people with two-year associate degrees with highly technical skills are earning more than those with four-year college degrees.

“That’s a very, very significant shift, and I really think the same thing potentially is and will happen in our state in West Virginia,” Paine said. Road construction, energy and information technology jobs, which are growing in the state, require such skills, he said.

From 2011 to 2017, Paine worked in Silicon Valley with startup companies. He said that has given him a lot of knowledge to be more effective this time as superintendent.

The other big change he has noticed since he returned as state superintendent is in discipline issues. Discipline and socio-emotional problems were primarily issues in the middle school and high school grades in the past, he said, but principals and teachers now are asking for help in dealing with elementary students. Paine said that is a result of so many students coming from homes affected by the drug epidemic.

The schools need support for counselors and social service workers, he said, so he wants to suggest to the Department of Health and Human Resources that it should consider housing Child Protective Services workers and other workers in schools.

The total budget that Governor Jim Justice has requested the legislature to appropriate for the Department of Education and the state school board is more than $2.4 billion.

County boards get more flexibility.

Amy Willard, executive director of school finance, said that, as a result of House Bill 2561, which the legislature passed in 2017, the School Aid Formula provides for more flexibility for county school boards in using state aid money.

“So now, up to $200,000 in bus replacement funds can be spent for alternative purposes upon approval by the state superintendent,” she said.

Other such changes Willard noted included:

  • Up to 50 percent of Step 7a funds can be used for the employment of personnel – an increase from 25 percent.
  • Up to 25 percent of Step 7a funds can now be used for alternative purposes if justification is provided.
  • Step 7b funds can be used to employ technology system specialists.
  • Up to 50 percent of Step 7b funds can be spent for alternative purposes if justification is provided.

In addition, she said, the 2017 law has changed the calculation of Step 6a to look at actual expenditures by school boards. She said it also changed the calculations for Step 1 and Step 2.

“Previously, county boards were penalized if they did not employ the number of staff that were calculated based on the ratio. Now, even if the county board does not employ that level of staffing, they still receive the funding that they can use [in other ways].” – Amy Willard

“Previously, county boards were penalized if they did not employ the number of staff that were calculated based on the ratio,” Willard said. “Now, even if the county board does not employ that level of staffing, they still receive the funding that they can use [in other ways].”

As an example, she said, a district could contract out speech therapy instead of employing a speech therapist.

Several counties have started taking advantage of the new flexibility, Willard said. Five counties have requested authority to use bus replacement funds for alternative purposes, she said, and several used the 50 percent change for personnel.

Terry Harless, chief financial officer, told legislators, “Enrollment really drives the bulk of the department’s funding.” Enrollment has decreased statewide by 2,557 students since last year to a current level of 270,613 students, he said. It’s the fifth consecutive year of declining enrollment, he said.

But spending has gone up for school lunches and breakfasts. Harless said the line-item for school nutrition is about $2.4 million, and that’s only the state portion. It is matched with about $146 million in federal funds, he said. About 99 percent of the funds go to the counties for discretionary use for nutrition, he said.

“Even though there are fewer students, there are more meals being served. There’s been a lot more school breakfasts, community eligibility program and in some cases inflationary reasons that federal budget has gone up.” – Terry Harless

“It has seen pretty significant growth in recent years,” Harless said. “Even though there are fewer students, there are more meals being served. There’s been a lot more school breakfasts, community eligibility program and in some cases inflationary reasons that federal budget has gone up.”

Willard said the drop in enrollment has resulted in a reduction in the Step 1 request because of the need for fewer positions for professional educators. Fewer service personnel also are needed, she said, but the Step 2 request is higher because of the statutory requirement to include $7 million in funding to bring the service personnel tables back into equity. She said the net reduction in Step 1 and Step 2 resulted in a reduction in Step 3, the allowance for employee benefit costs.

Other changes Willard mentioned include:

  • Step 4, the allowance for transportation, has a $3.1 million increase because of increased costs for transportation operations, maintenance and insurance, as well as funding for bus replacement.
  • Step 6, the allowance for other current expenses, substitutes and faculty senates, is down $1.5 million primarily because school districts’ costs for operations and maintenance have gone down.
  • The total basic foundation allowance is $1.9 million less than in the current fiscal year.
  • Local share decreased $1.7 million because assessed property values are projected to decrease during the next fiscal year.
  • The adjustments for taxes not collected and payments in lieu of taxes is another $700,000.
  • The request for total basic state aid is about $600,000 more than last year.
  • The increases in basic state aid were offset by a reduction of about $13.5 million in fund for coverage by the Public Employees Insurance Agency because the department has funds on deposit with PEIA and because fewer positions are being covered under the funding formula.
  • Requests for retirement funding are down $8.1 million based on estimates by the Consolidated Public Retirement Board’s actuary. Those will need to be adjusted once the final actuarial report is available.

Willard said the department’s original request for state aid was about $21 million less than last year’s level, but the governor made changes in his recommended state budget. About those changes, she said:

  • An $8 million increase reflected in Step 1 is due to the average 1 percent pay increase for professional educators.
  • Step 2 has a reduction of $4.4 million because the governor removed the amount needed for the equity increase and put it into the 1 percent average increase for service personnel. Together, they resulted in a net decrease in the requested appropriation by $4.3 million.
  • Adjustments in Steps 3 and 6 are due to the pay increases. The governor recommended another $4.6 million for PEIA premiums, and another $884,000 is for retirement related to the salary increases.
  • The governor’s proposal increases state aid by $9.5 million. The department’s $21 million decrease combined with the governor’s $9.5 million increase reflects an overall increase of $11.5 million.

Looking at all the steps of the formula, the pay increase would cost $9.5 million for professional educators and $3.2 million for service personnel for a total of $12.7 million, Willard said.

Department has high hopes for Communities in Schools.

Each year, the Department of Education seeks to augment its budget with several items in what is called an Improvement Package. For the upcoming fiscal year, the department requested five items, but the only one the governor decided should be funded is Communities in Schools for $400,000. That program is going on in Greenbrier County. The plan is to expand it to McDowell, Wyoming and Berkeley counties and perhaps eventually statewide.

In the program, the school system develops community partnerships that bring resources into the schools and help removed barriers to student learning. According to the description in the department’s budget request, the program “pays attention to the physical, social, psychological and academic needs of individual students.” It considers those to be critical components in reducing the number of dropouts and increasing graduation rates.

“The kids that participate in this program have a 100 percent graduation rate, and they also have other student achievement outcomes that have increased, too.” – Supt. Steve Paine

Paine said the program has worked well in Greenbrier County. “The kids that participate in this program have a 100 percent graduation rate, and they also have other student achievement outcomes that have increased, too,” he said.

If the program expands, he said, a site coordinator would be assigned to each school to track student progress, establish mentorship relationships and other activities.

“McDowell County and Wyoming County were chosen because of need, Berkeley County because of interest,” Paine said. Although Berkeley County is viewed generally as economically prosperous, he said, there is “another segment of students that are very, very much at risk and in need.”

Paine said the department has matched the $400,000 in the request by using truancy diversion money and other discretionary money. Also, he said, Gov. Justice also has donated his salary to this program.

Asked about how schools can cope with effects of West Virginia’s drug epidemic, Paine said the Communities in Schools program shows promise in addressing those issues. “We really need to target our professional development in those directions,” he added. The department is not asking for increased resources but instead is reallocating the funds it has, he said.

“I had no idea that the largest social-emotional challenges today in public schools is coming from elementary schools,” Paine said, which is why he wants to speak with Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch about services his department is providing.

“Actually, I talked to this advisory group of principals the other day,” Paine said. “They would very, very willingly create space within our schools to house some of those people, so that they could actually work with some of our staff members to do these – what they call – wraparound services to kids that are having those kinds of problems.”

“Somehow, we have to re-establish that family unit, and I think schools are probably the only method we have.” – Delegate Bill Hartman

Delegate Bill Hartman, D-Randolph, said, “Somehow, we have to re-establish that family unit, and I think schools are probably the only method we have.”

Paine replied, “I’ve heard it said public schools are the only institution in America that can mandate compulsory attendance of kids from ages four to 18. So therefore, everybody knows that, and that’s the place where everybody wants us to address all the issues of society. It’s interesting. We want to help kids read and write and do mathematics and compute and so forth, but we also have so many other things we need to take care of for those kids.”

Department is much smaller than it was.

Asked about the number of employees at the Department of Education, Paine said it had dropped by at least 100 from when left in 2011 to when he returned last year. Then the abolishment of the RESAs took 459 state-funded and grant-funded employees, and abolishment of OEPA took nine employees, he said.

“To absorb that work, we have added 23 staff members at the Department of Education, primarily for the WVEIS [West Virginia Education Information System] system, the student information system, because there are services that were being provided in the RESAs that we need to absorb,” he said. “We’re centrally doing that. With technology today, you can do technology support from anywhere virtually.”

Overall, Paine said, the department is down by 436 positions.

But elimination of RESAs is leaving certain programs homeless. One service that had been offered by RESAs was fire service training. Paine said he planned to meet by the end of this week with six superintendents to ask if their districts would serve as fiscal agents for fire service training, which could be provided through school districts’ career-technical education centers.

Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, expressed concern about information technology in the schools. He said some information indicates students don’t learn as well on electronic devices and need something tangible in their hands and interaction with teachers.

“Digital technology…used properly in the hands of a highly skilled teacher can accelerate, enrich and enhance student learning, but in the hands of a teacher that’s not as skilled, it can also have a detrimental effect if it’s looked at as a substitution for the instruction.” – Supt. Steve Paine

Paine responded, “Digital technology…used properly in the hands of a highly skilled teacher can accelerate, enrich and enhance student learning, but in the hands of a teacher that’s not as skilled, it can also have a detrimental effect if it’s looked at as a substitution for the instruction. I don’t think there’s any question that a highly skilled teacher in the front of every classroom is really the best way to go. But to equip them with tools and technology, we can realize greater levels of student achievement.”

Almost all school districts are using the West Virginia’s Virtual School program, Paine said. As a result of legislation last year, the department has partnered with the Kanawha County schools to expand the offerings provided, he said.

“It’s been a nice county/state partnership that we created that I think is working really well,” Paine said. “They have a nice plan for how that moves forward in the future.”

In the budget hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha, noted that West Virginia has more than 10,200 home-schooled students and about 12,500 students in private and parochial schools. He wondered if the public education system could afford it if those students would attend public schools.

“We’d love to recapture those students actually,” Paine responded. He said last year’s Senate Bill 630 created a mechanism to recapture some of them through virtual schools, and he would like to offer virtual school programs to home-schooled children and private school children.

Teachers’ math skills need to improve.

Asked about how many West Virginia high school graduates require remedial math when they get to college, Paine said it’s about 70 percent. “That number has remained somewhat stagnant for several years,” he said. Asked then about West Virginia’s high school graduation rate, he said it is 89.4 percent, which is second highest in the country. “So yes, there’s a disconnect, and I understand the point that you’re making,” he said.

Some of the department’s budget request will be targeted to work specifically with teachers in mathematics, Paine said. The department also wants high school teachers to coordinate with college instructors on curriculum, he said.

“There are no easy ways to get around the fact that I think that mathematics teachers quite frankly don’t necessarily have the math content they need to be outstanding mathematics teachers. I think they understand instructional strategies, but I think they’re lacking in the math content.” – Supt. Steve Paine

“There are no easy ways to get around the fact that I think that mathematics teachers quite frankly don’t necessarily have the math content they need to be outstanding mathematics teachers,” Paine said. “I think they understand instructional strategies, but I think they’re lacking in the math content.”

Several years ago, the department used math content academies to give teachers better understanding of the content knowledge of math, he said, and that produced gains in student test scores that were statistically significant. “We need to get back to that targeted professional development that teaches our teachers mathematics content as opposed to teaching strategies,” he said. The lack of certified teachers in math positions also is a big factor, Paine said.

“How do we fix that?” Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, asked.

“Good question. I think it’s a challenge for us,” Paine said. “We have to make the teaching profession more attractive to some of our best and brightest kids.”

Letting students earn associate degrees while still in high school could help with that, he said. “I think the earlier you can capture kids and perhaps pique their interest in occupations and careers like teaching, the better off we would be,” he said.

Paine said that would be a goal for math, science and special education.

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Senate is on schedule to pass one public education bill as early as Monday, while two others are making their way through committees. Meanwhile, a bill to raise salaries for teachers and school service personnel has cleared its first committee in the Senate.

Senate Bill 62 was scheduled for the second of its three required readings in the Senate today after getting approval from the Senate Education Committee earlier in the week. The purpose of the bill is to allow school districts to hire persons with professional administrative certificates and five years of experience as attendance directors.

As Hank Hager, counsel for the committee explained, the law currently allows school boards to hire fully certified attendance directors. If no fully certified attendance director is available, a board could hire someone with a professional administrative certificate. He said Senate Bill 62 would change that to allow the hiring of someone with a professional administrative certificate even if a fully certified attendance director were available. But it would add the requirement that the person with the professional administrative certificate must have five years of experience, he said.

Another bill approved by the Senate Education Committee last week is now in the hands of the Senate Finance Committee. Senate Bill 130 would allow students who are home-schooled or attend private schools to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities at public schools.

The bill is named the Tim Tebow Act after a home-schooled student who played football at the University of Florida and won the Heisman Trophy. Supporters have tried for years to pass legislation like this named for Tebow.

This week, the Senate Education Committee also considered Senate Bill 284, which is part of the legislative package promoted by Gov. Jim Justice. Its purpose is to increase the quality of the state’s workforce by increasing access to career education through the establishment of Advanced Career Education programs and the West Virginia Invests Grant Program.

Kathy D’Antoni, assistant superintendent for the Division of Technical Education and Governor’s Economic Initiatives, explained to the committee that in the Advanced Career Education programs students in the ninth and 10th grades would take foundational courses to let them determine if they want to go further on a career education track. They would go deeper in their junior and senior years and then have the opportunity to take a 13th year of public schooling to get a credential or an associate degree.

“So you could get your degree along with your high school diploma or one year after.” – Kathy D’Antoni

“So you could get your degree along with your high school diploma or one year after,” D-Antoni said. Partnership between high schools and community and technical colleges would be “critical” for the programs to work.

Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, called the proposal “very innovative.”

D’Antoni pointed out that the students who are in current programs like this go through drug testing during their junior and senior years. “I am happy to report we have 1 percent of our students who do not pass,” she said. “Ninety-nine percent of our students are passing these drug tests, which is encouraging and exciting for me because if we don’t catch them in high school, we got a societal problem after school.”

Plymale, who is a former chairman of the Senate Education Committee, said, “I see this as the beauty of this bill. We can identify and give opportunities for career pathways to students earlier, and they can see that pathway, and they get very serious about it as they move forward.”

The Education Committee discussed Senate Bill 284 for almost an hour on Thursday until it ran out of time, so Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, said the committee would take it up again on Tuesday.

Also this week, Mann told the committee about his hopes for the committee’s work this year and read the comments of another member. He said legislators need to focus on the recruitment and retention of teachers. “Of course, a lot of my vision takes money, and I know money is tight right now,” he said.

Mann said he intends to see that all education models – public schools, private schools and home schools – “have the best of the best.” He said he wants to help all of them without hurting any of them.

“I think our public schools have taken a lot of hits on the chin and gotten some black eyes.” – Sen. Kenny Mann

“I think our public schools have taken a lot of hits on the chin and gotten some black eyes,” Mann said. It is important to get responsibility and respect back into the schools, he said. Education starts at home, but many students do not have good home lives, he said. Parents have responsibility to teach their children to be respectful and responsible, he said. “With our drug problem across our state, this is a growing problem,” he said.

Teachers are expected to get students to achieve high scores, but they need respect from the students to do that, Mann said. “I’m trying to get away from the teachers not only having to teach the child, but their having to raise the children now in these early ages,” he said.

Mann also read a letter from Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, who said she believes members of the state school board should be elected. She wants the committee to review the education performance audit conducted several years ago and create a prioritized list of action items based on it. She also wants the committee to consider options for school choice.

While the Senate Education Committee met Thursday, the Senate Government Organization Committee also met and approved Senate Bill 267. That bill was requested by Gov. Jim Justice to provide pay raises of 1 percent for teachers and school service personnel, as well as for members of the State Police.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, spoke in favor of the bill. “I do think this is much needed, although it’s not very much of an increase for these employees,” he said. “I will say it’s a little bit disappointing. In the governor’s State of the State speech, which was very thin on policy ideas and specifics, this was one of the main ones that he highlighted, I thought. And it seems like he’s really not pulling back on a promise, but he’s not going full force like he seemed to indicate he was in his speech. And to me, that’s a little disappointing.”

Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, also spoke in support of the bill. But he said he would like to see if money used for overhead at the Department of Education could be used instead for teachers’ pay raises.

Senate Bill 267 has gone to the Senate Finance Committee for further consideration.

By Jim Wallace

The School Building Authority has used borrowed money for almost three decades to fund school construction projects all around West Virginia, but one official has told legislators the agency won’t borrow money forever.

“We’re trying to get the School Building Authority in 15 years to be totally pay-go.” – Garry Stewart

“We’re trying to get the School Building Authority in 15 years to be totally pay-go,” Garry Stewart, director of finance for the agency, told members of the Senate Finance Committee Thursday. “We won’t be borrowing any more debt. We’ll be paying as we go, but it does take time to pay off all the debt.”

Stewart explained that the School Building Authority gets a school construction fund of $25.07 million a year. Last year, the legislature passed House Bill 2720, which is helping his agency to lay out a different course for its future, he said.

“That allowed us to change the way we obtain our operating funds,” Stewart said. “We now take it out of the school construction fund, but we had a debt service reserve fund that we could use if we could find another revenue source, and we were able to refund the bonds that were issued in 2007 and pay those bonds off three years early. Once those are paid off, we start getting the debt service that we were paying on that.”

In the first year, the School Building Authority will get $49.5 million, he said. “What we’re trying to do is get $50 million every year to pay for schools,” Stewart said. “After 15 years, we will have $974 million for school construction.”

If school districts pay about one-third of the costs, about $1.3 billion in school construction could be done over 15 years, he said.

Stewart’s comments came in the agency’s annual budget presentation to the Senate Finance Committee. He said school projects under way now are worth about $626 million. He also noted that over the past 27 years the School Building Authority’s operating expense has been about 1 percent. So for every $100 allocated, $99 goes to school construction, he said. The School Building Authority has 11 employees.


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.