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February 15, 2018 - Volume 38 Issue 6

By Jim Wallace

The West Virginia Legislature has two versions of a bill to raise pay for teachers and others, but neither is good enough for many teachers across the state. While the House of Delegates slogged through hours of debate before approving its version of Senate Bill 267, teachers and school service personnel made plans for “work action” to protest the size of the raises planned for them and the cost of their health care insurance.

Last weekend, members of the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia authorized their unions to take action. On Wednesday, members of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association gave that authorization to their union.

Teachers in at least six counties – Cabell, Wayne, Lincoln, Mason, Clay and Brooke – are reported to be planning walkouts on Friday to allow many of them to gather at the Capitol in Charleston to put pressure on legislators. Teachers in other counties are reported to be considering walkouts. Another rally, which could draw even more teachers, school service workers and their supporters, is scheduled for Saturday at the Capitol. Union leaders have indicated their members could take further actions but have not yet said whether those actions could include more widespread walkouts, such as those that occurred during the massive teachers’ strike of 1990.

“I’m a fairly optimistic person, and I don’t feel that good about what’s happening right now.” – Christine Campbell

“I’m a fairly optimistic person, and I don’t feel that good about what’s happening right now,” Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said Tuesday on MetroNews Radio Network’s Talkline program on Tuesday. “They are really angry and frustrated and don’t feel like the process is moving in a direction that makes sense for public education.”

Likewise, Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said on the same program that teachers across the state are angry over their salaries, health care costs and legislative attacks on seniority.

“Unless things change, we’re headed for a work action,” he said. “We’re going to discuss all of our possibilities and all the avenues that we would take and make the decision to go from there.”

Members of the House of Delegates were well aware of the growing dissatisfaction among public school employees over both pay and health care benefits as they debated for three hours on Monday and Tuesday over a pay raise bill and then on Wednesday used two other pieces of legislation to try to shore up funding for public employees’ health care benefits.

Senate Bill 267 is the pay raise bill. As it came out of the Senate two weeks ago, it called for a 1 percent for teachers for the next fiscal year and for each of the four following year, just as Gov. Jim Justice had proposed. It would give school service personnel 1 percent each in the next two fiscal years and would do the same for State Police troopers. As amended in the House Finance Committee last week, the House version would provide teachers with a 2 percent increase in the next fiscal year and 1 percent in each of the next three years. It also would double the pay raises next year for school service personnel and State Police.

Many members of the House tried to sweeten the pay raises further, and one amendment failed only by the closest margin possible – a tie.

One amendment – proposed by all 36 House Democrats – would have given raises of 3 percent in each of the next three years. Arguing for it, House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, suggested that legislators could find creative ways to pay for it. He said they would need to find another $13 million to $15 million for the first year. Deferring the $30 million to $35 million the governor wants for the Department of Commerce and Division of Tourism would be one way to do that, he said. Deferring the proposed reduction of the inventory tax for certain businesses would help fund the pay raises in future years, he said. Sports betting, which is the subject of another bill, could bring in $15 million to $20 million a year, he said, and increasing the severance tax on natural gas could provide another source of funding.

“If we want to really do it and we want to make the commitment to our teachers in this state and the service personnel and the troopers, we’ll find a way to make it happen.” – Delegate Tim Miley

“If we want to really do it and we want to make the commitment to our teachers in this state and the service personnel and the troopers, we’ll find a way to make it happen,” Miley said. “This body always has, and I assume it always will.”

Supporting Miley, Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said, “We need to do something here meaningful. We’ve got a disaster that’s been coming for a long time.”

But House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, defended the House version of the bill as doing the right thing for teachers and others. “This is not saying no,” he said. “This is truly stepping up and saying, ‘We’ve heard you.’ We’ve not been able to do anything these last few years because of our very poor fiscal situation. We’re not out of the trough yet, folks. We’ve moved. We’ve got positive trends moving. We’re up versus last year.”

Nelson argued that the House should get some credit for trying to do more than what the governor and the Senate proposed while still living within the state’s means. He said a 3 percent raise would cost $36 million the first year, $72 million the second year and $108 million the third year. State revenues are not growing that fast, he said, and in the first seven months of this fiscal year, the state was running $25 million under budget projections.

While trying to give better pay raises to teachers and the others, Nelson said, the House also is trying to address their complaints about the rising cost of health insurance from the Public Employees Insurance Agency. To hold PEIA premiums steady over the next year, as Gov. Justice and many legislators want to do, would cost $29 million extra, he said, so the adjustments already on the table threaten the funding the governor wants for the Department of Commerce. He concluded that three years of 3 percent raises would put the state on “a slippery path.”

Pleading for the higher set of raises, Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, said, “What we’re talking about here today is people’s lives – people that want to stay and live and work in West Virginia.” Those people have not received raises for four years, he said, and the dollar loses 3 percent to 4 percent buying power each year. “So not only have they not gotten a raise; they went backward,” he said.

“It is the sweet spot of what we can find agreement on and become law and find the pockets of those workers we care about.” – Delegate Daryl Cowles

But House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan argued that the House must reject the Democrats’ amendment and go the slightly sweetened version of the bill that came out of the House Finance Committee. “It is the sweet spot of what we can find agreement on and become law and find the pockets of those workers we care about,” he said.

Several Republicans joined the Democrats in voting for the amendment, but the House defeated it on a vote of 42 to 58.

Republican amendment almost passed.

A proposed amendment by two Republicans, Patrick McGeehan or Hancock County and Michael Folk of Berkeley County, fared better but not well enough. They wanted to provide 3 percent raises next year and 1 percent in each of the next two years.

Nelson urged delegates to reject the amendment, saying it was well beyond what the governor and the Senate wanted. “So I think what’s in front of us is the best option for us at this time,” he said.

But Folk argued it would be better giving teachers more money than spending money on technology. “We’ve been having our priorities messed up,” he said. “Instead of sending money to the classroom in the form of teachers to keep teachers, we’re sending it out of state to some manufacturer of an iPad or a Google Chromebook or some other device. I would rather keep that money in the state, paying our teachers.”

However, Nelson said, the extra 1 percent raise just for the teachers would add $9 million to the budget. He added that a flaw in the amendment would give service personnel even more than intended by taking them up from an average of $220 extra to $1,200, which would cost an extra $13 million. Thus, he said, the legislature would need to find an extra $22 million and then throw the PEIA freeze on top of it.

“The financial effect of this amendment is more than we can afford right now,” Nelson said.

“I’m the majority leader, not a magician. We have to work within the budget.” – Delegate Daryl Cowles

Cowles supported him. “We’ve taken the governor’s proposal and doubled it,” he said. “That’s going to be hard enough. I’m the majority leader, not a magician. We have to work within the budget.”

But McGeehan contended that legislators could find the money in the budget. “If we don’t pass this amendment, I’m pretty certain, when it comes budget time, we’re going to go ahead and see millions and millions of dollars allocated in line-items under the Department of Commerce and other nonessential, rather unproductive and wasteful agencies and bureaucracies right here in Charleston,” he said. Passing the amendment would ensure that money would get back to districts around the state, he said.

Because of increased road construction in the years ahead, the state will take in increased tax revenue, McGeehan said. He dismissed the value of giving the state Development Office more money, as the governor wants to do, by saying that agency just gives subsidies to politically connected businessmen.

The vote on McGeehan and Folk’s amendment was 50 in favor and 50 against. Lacking a majority, it failed.

Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, and 34 others proposed an amendment that would have increased salaries of all state employees beginning July 1, 2020, and continuing for the next six fiscal years. But Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, ruled it was not germane because it would apply to many employees beyond those covered in Senate Bill 267.

Approved change would help school districts.

One amendment the House did accept came from Nelson and six others. Nelson explained that it would lift a burden from county school boards that goes back to 2008. In that year, House Bill 4548 locked in the School Aid Formula’s Step 5, which provides for the allowance for school nurses and counselors.

“Counties won’t be burdened with the extra cost when there is a pay raise for our school personnel or nurses and counselors.” – Delegate Eric Nelson

“In essence, it created an unfunded mandate on our counties,” Nelson said. “Most recently, we did have a teacher pay raise in 2014 that affected the counselors as well as the nurses, but that increase was borne by the counties. What this amendment does is fix…the actions in 2008 instead of going forward. Counties won’t be burdened with the extra cost when there is a pay raise for our school personnel or nurses and counselors. The additional cost of this to the state and not of the counties will be $400,000 this fiscal year – a total of $2 million over the five years.”

Nelson warned that if the legislature would increase the burden on county school districts, they might employ fewer counselors.

By the time the House approved that amendment on a voice vote, delegates had spent more than two hours and 12 minutes debating amendments to Senate Bill 267.

Many delegates approve bill reluctantly.

When the bill was up for a vote on Tuesday, delegates spent another 52 minutes discussing it with most of them saying they wished they could do more.

Nelson said the increased cost to the state for the House version would be $24 million in the next fiscal year, and by the end of the fourth year, the cost would be more than $65 million extra. “We truly wish that we could do much more, but given our current financial situation and the other restraints within the budget, I believe this is a very prudent first step,” he said.

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, said state officials expect state revenue to increase in the years ahead. So he asked Nelson, “Would you join with me today in pledging that, if that increase does come forward, that you would join with me to bring this pay raise back next year, look at that 1 percent and see if there’s a possibility of making an increase in it?”

“I think that would be an absolute priority for this whole body,” Nelson responded.

But Delegate Robert Thompson, D-Wayne, said, “I feel ashamed that we aren’t able to do more or can’t do more for them than we are with this bill. I hope that we will revisit this issue as the earliest possible chance and make it right.”

Sponaugle complained that the bill was doing little more than giving the teachers and others the equivalent of a couple of Christmas hams while other legislation would give benefits to businesses and create an intermediate court of appeals. “We got all these handouts we got to give to everybody else except taking care of our people, and we’re falling way short,” he said.

Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, said legislators were missing a golden opportunity. He said he had attended rallies by teachers and other public employees in his region.

“They’re not happy and they’re not satisfied. I predict that we’re going to have thousands of screaming state employees filling these halls before we leave town, and I predict that we’re going to have to revisit this because they are not happy – and rightfully so.” – Delegate Mike Caputo

“The pot is starting to boil, and I don’t see satisfaction in this raise,” Caputo said. “They’re not happy and they’re not satisfied. I predict that we’re going to have thousands of screaming state employees filling these halls before we leave town, and I predict that we’re going to have to revisit this because they are not happy – and rightfully so.”

But Delegate Marshall Wilson, R-Berkeley, objected to such arguments. “Our intent is to provide a sustainable program of pay increases for our employees while investing in and developing the underlying economic structure of the state,” he said. ”It will allow for sustainable improvements without increasing the already-crushing burden of taxation that’s been laid on the shoulders of all Mountaineers, including our state employees.”

Wilson contended the bill is a great opportunity to demonstrate support both for public employees and for taxpayers.

“It would be a real shame from my perspective were the professional employees of this state to act in an unprofessional manner by – I believe the term was – ‘screaming in the hallways,’” he said. “We are listening. That’s not necessary, and we appreciate their time and their effort.”

Noting that Nelson had said there had been a lot of misinformation about Senate Bill 267, Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, said, “I think the misinformation might have started on the first night of session during the State of the State address when a magic chalkboard was unveiled and said we’re in the black, we’re in the clear, everything’s great.”

Pushkin questioned the effort to eliminate the inventory tax. “We can afford to do that, but we can’t afford to improve our public education?” he asked. “We start by paying our teachers. That’s how we improve public education. So is this the best we can do? No. Is this the best you’re going to do? Probably.”

Delegate Michael Ferro, D-Marshall, recalled being one of the thousands of teachers who went on strike in 1990 over pay and other issues. He said he wasn’t advocating another strike now, but he would support whatever the teachers decide to do.

“I think what we’ve done in this particular session we’ve woken up a sleeping giant,” Ferro said. “These people are dead serious about what’s going on right now.”

As the debate went on, Miley announced what essentially could be a death sentence for the proposed $140 million reduction in taxes on inventory for certain classes of businesses. He said Democrats would consider the resolution that would set up a vote on a constitutional amendment for the inventory tax rollback only if the pay demands of teachers and school service personnel could be satisfied.

“That’s just off the table,” he said. “I am not going to go home, nor is anyone in this caucus going to go home, and say, ‘We’ve given you crumbs, but yet we’ve given business more tax breaks.’”

Without votes from some of the 36 Democrats, the resolution for the constitutional amendment could not receive the 67 votes it would need in the House to move forward. Miley said the state already has cut business taxes enough in recent years that West Virginia was ranked as having the 18th best tax climate in the country, according to one objective assessment (the Tax Foundation’s 2017 State Business Tax Climate Index).

Jeff Campbell, D-Greenbrier, was among delegates who indicated they would fully support any work action that teachers and school service personnel might take. “If they walk the picket line, I will stand by their side,” he said. “West Virginia’s public employees don’t need lectures on fiscal responsibility when many live paycheck to paycheck. What we’re doing is kicking the can down the road. We can fix this now, or we can fix it later, but later may come sooner than we think. There are dedicated revenue sources out there that we need to look at now.”

Nelson closed the debate by saying all legislators care about teachers and other public employees. He defended the House version of Senate Bill 267.

“We stepped up and are putting a plan in place that is significantly better than what the governor proposed and is improved over what the Senate proposed. We all desire to do more, and I believe we will be able to do so in the future.” – Delegate Eric Nelson

“We stepped up and are putting a plan in place that is significantly better than what the governor proposed and is improved over what the Senate proposed,” Nelson said. “We all desire to do more, and I believe we will be able to do so in the future.”

The House voted 98 to one to approve the bill. The only delegate who voted against the bill was Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, who was reprimanded by Speaker Armstead for charging that corporate interests control many legislators’ agenda. Delegate Saira Blair, R-Berkeley, was absent for the vote.

The next step for Senate Bill 267 is for the Senate to decide whether to accept the changes made by the House. On Talkline Wednesday, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said, “We’ll give it full consideration.” But he added that the Senate wants to make sure it acts in a “fiscally prudent” manner.

“The last thing we want to do in this state, in my opinion, is to turn us back to the good old days of just spending frivolously without a plan for the future.” – Senate President Mitch Carmichael

“The last thing we want to do in this state, in my opinion, is to turn us back to the good old days of just spending frivolously without a plan for the future,” he said. “We’ve always wanted to give our teachers and public employees as much as we possibly can.”

House measures are aimed at health care benefits issue.

Also on Wednesday, two actions occurred in the House to shore up funding for PEIA. One happened during a meeting of the House Finance Committee, which originated House Bill 4620 and then approved it. It would take $29 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund and transfer it to PEIA so that the agency can afford to freeze benefits and premiums at their current levels over the next fiscal year.

“Transferring this money now will ensure there are no changes to employees’ co-pays, deductibles and out-of-pocket expenses in the coming fiscal year,” Nelson said in a news release.

The money would be transferred directly to PEIA’s Basic Insurance Premium Fund, which would mean that it would not be subject to the 80/20 rule for PEIA. That’s a statutory provision that for every 80 cents the state puts into PEIA premiums, employees must put in 20 cents. By bypassing that provision, the bill would avoid triggering increases in employees’ premiums.

“The way this transfer is being done will allow the PEIA Finance Board to offset deductible and out-of-pocket increases without resulting in premium increases for public employees,” Nelson said.

Currently, the state’s Rainy Day Fund has a balance of more than $714 million. Nelson said the fund would remain at more than 15 percent of the state’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year after the transfer, which would mean that the transfer should not affect the state’s credit rating.

The House Finance Committee’s action came during a week in which the PEIA Finance Board held public meetings in Charleston, Morgantown and Beckley on the governor’s proposal to freeze premiums and benefits for the next fiscal year. Nelson said that, although the legislature normally would handle PEIA funding in the budget bill at the end of the legislative session, members of the House Finance Committee believed it was prudent to act right away to transfer the funds to “underscore our intention to guarantee no changes in PEIA for the coming year.”

“Though it isn’t a long-term fix, this action will give us time to work with all parties to consider all options to provide affordable and sustainable health insurance programs for our state employees in the coming year.” – Delegate Eric Nelson

Nelson added, “Though it isn’t a long-term fix, this action will give us time to work with all parties to consider all options to provide affordable and sustainable health insurance programs for our state employees in the coming year.”

The issue of PEIA costs also crossed over into seemingly unrelated legislation Wednesday, when House Bill 4268 on oil and natural gas leases was on amendment stage in the House of Delegates. It’s known as the co-tenancy bill because it would allow drilling for oil and natural gas when drillers have consent from at least 75 percent of owners of the mineral rights rather than needing consent from all of the owners.

Delegate Phil Isner, D-Randolph, was successful in getting the House to vote 49 to 47 in favor of his amendment to take 50 percent of money from the Unknown and Unlocatable Interest Owners Fund and put it into the PEIA Stability Fund. If House Bill 4268 would become law with that provision, it would take several years before PEIA would receive any money and the level of such funding is uncertain.

But just the fact that the House approved the amendment on an unrelated bill shows how much issues with pay and benefits for teachers and school service workers are dominating the work of the legislature as it heads into the second half of the 2018 regular session.

By Jim Wallace

Although the issues of teacher pay and benefits overshadowed other issues this week, the House of Delegates did pass two other education bills and move two more through the House Education Committee.

However, teacher pay and benefits affected discussion of one of the bills the House approved this week. The purpose of House Bill 4407 is to remove one of the requirements for eligibility for an alternative program teacher certificate. If the bill would become law, a person seeking alternative certification no longer would have to have an academic major or occupational area the same as or similar to subject matter that he or she would be hired to teach.

When the bill was up for a vote Wednesday, House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, said the bill resulted from a report legislators received from the Department of Education about alternative certification during interim meetings before the regular legislative session began. He said legislators learned that 52 school districts have alternative certification programs and 23 have implemented them. He said Kanawha County uses its program to produce fully certified candidates in areas of critical need and shortage.

Although alternative certification began in 1990 and was undated substantially by the legislature in 2015, Espinosa said, one hang-up has been the requirement to have a degree in the same field in which the prospective teacher would teach.

But critics of the bill saw it as a result of the decline in pay and benefits for teachers, leading many of them to leave the state or leave teaching. Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, blamed the legislature for passing bills in recent years that “gutted” teachers’ retirement system and hurt them in other ways and for introducing other bills this year that would be harmful to teachers.

“Why are we looking at alternative certification for teachers?” he asked. “It’s because we can’t keep and attract teachers.”

Moye suggested that, if House Bill 4407 would become law, someone with a degree in theater arts could end up teaching math as long as that person could pass the Praxis.

“This is another way to devalue the education that our teachers get. What this bill does is put a warm body in a classroom. That’s what we’re down to. We’ve made it so our teachers don’t want to come into the field. They don’t want to stay in the classroom.” – Delegate Ricky Moye

“This is another way to devalue the education that our teachers get,” he said. “What this bill does is put a warm body in a classroom. That’s what we’re down to. We’ve made it so our teachers don’t want to come into the field. They don’t want to stay in the classroom.”

Espinosa disagreed with Moye’s contention. He said someone who would receive alternative certification under the provisions of the bill still must demonstrate content knowledge in the field in which that person wants to teach. It would be a comprehensive program, he said.

To the contrary, Delegate Michael Ferro, D-Marshall, said, “This completely devalues teacher programs in the state of West Virginia.”

Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said the bill would tell colleges and universities there no longer is a need for their teaching degrees.

Defending the bill, Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, said, “We have already debated alternative certification, and we passed it a couple years ago. We passed it in order to give counties the ability to have some other track to get teachers into their system that they weren’t getting from Marshall or from WVU or from Concord.”

But Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, said, “What we’re doing is taking all the standards out for any kind of background, any kind of occupational experience, any kind of academic experience, and you just go in and take a couple of exams and bingo, you can be certified as a teacher.”

“This is not a question of whether we are going to have alternative certification in West Virginia. That’s been in law since 1990. The question is: Do we take a step that’s been presented to us by our school district officials, particularly Kanawha County, and help fill some of these vacancies that we hear so much about with individuals that can clearly demonstrate that they have the content knowledge and the commitment to becoming certified teachers?” – Delegate Paul Espinosa

Closing debate, Espinosa, said, “This is not a question of whether we are going to have alternative certification in West Virginia. That’s been in law since 1990. The question is: Do we take a step that’s been presented to us by our school district officials, particularly Kanawha County, and help fill some of these vacancies that we hear so much about with individuals that can clearly demonstrate that they have the content knowledge and the commitment to becoming certified teachers?”

After 53 minutes of debate, the House barely approved House Bill 4407 on a vote of 50 to 48 with two delegates absent. The bill has gone to the Senate Education Committee for further consideration.

Some delegates suggested that House Bill 4407 was related to a report the House Education Committee received on Monday from Michele Blatt, assistant superintendent for support and accountability at the Department of Education. She gave the committee a breakdown of all the 727 teaching positions across the state that were not filled with fulltime, fully certified teachers by October 1 of the current school year. She said there were:

  • 52 certified teachers who were not endorsed in the subjects they teach;
  • 101 fully certified teachers who did not want their positions fulltime and chose to be substitutes;
  • 110 retired educators filling positions;
  • 402 noncertified short-term or long-term substitutes; and
  • 62 position vacant completely.

Many of the completely vacant positions were for speech/language pathologists, Blatt added.

Separate from that report about the 727 positions, she said, there were 89 positions filled by persons with out-of-field authorizations and 436 by persons with first-class, fulltime permits. “These are teachers that are certified and have committed to pursuing the coursework and the things they need to become certified,” she said.

Asked about why so many fully certified teachers did not want fulltime positions, Blatt said she there are a number of reasons for that. In some places, two fulltime moms share a position that neither wants fulltime, she said.

Robert Hagerman, executive director of the Office of Certification and Professional Preparation, added that other cases include someone pursuing graduate studies or someone who is a divorced parent with obligations that prevent the person from being away from home all week or someone like a real estate agent who must run a business some days a week.

Cooper noted that the 727 positions not filled with fulltime, fully certified teachers represented 3.06 percent of the statewide total of 23,773 teacher positions. “Most businesses in this state probably are missing 3.06 [percent] of their employees as well,” he said.

“We have 38 percent of our math courses not taught by a certified teacher.” – Michele Blatt

Blatt agreed but said the situation is worse in certain types of teaching positions. “We have 38 percent of our math courses not taught by a certified teacher,” she said. That can affect student achievement in math, she said.

“So maybe we better look at how to get more math teachers,” Cooper said.

“Exactly,” Blatt responded. She added that teacher vacancies used to be concentrated in science and math positions, but now they are across the board.

When Delegate Kenneth Hicks, D-Wayne, asked if pay was the reason for so many vacancies, Blatt replied, “I think it’s a combination of a lot of things. I don’t think anyone gets into the field of education thinking that they’re going to get rich. But when you mix many of the things that you guys have been dealing with as far as the insurance and the living conditions and the support that I’ve heard this committee talk about the lack of support from parents….”

Bill would give school boards more flexibility in hiring.

The House this week also approved a Senate-passed bill to give school districts more flexibility in hiring attendance directors but only after making a change that Espinosa said would give districts even more flexibility in managing administrative personnel. As Senate Bill 62 came up for a vote in the House on Tuesday, he said the bill would provide relief for some districts.

“Current law requires county boards of education with more than 4,000 students to employ a fulltime attendance director, or if they have 4,000 or less students, at least a halftime director and such assistant attendance directors as deemed necessary,” Espinosa said. “Current law also allows county boards of education to – and I quote – ‘establish special and professional qualifications for attendance directors and assistants as are deemed expedient and proper and are consistent with regulations of the state board of education.’ This bill does not change these provisions.”

“Many of our school systems have small central offices where the personnel perform multiple duties. If they post the position and a current administrator who meets all the qualifications in the posting applies, this bill allows them to employ that person as the halftime director or assistant, rather than be required to reject them and employ an additional central office staff simply because they held the certificate.” – Delegate Paul Espinosa

Further, he said, county boards of education currently may employ a person with an administrative certificate who meets the criteria or skills specifically stated in a job posting as an attendance director. “However, they may do so only if no one applies who holds an attendance director’s certificate,” Espinosa said. “Many of our school systems have small central offices where the personnel perform multiple duties. If they post the position and a current administrator who meets all the qualifications in the posting applies, this bill allows them to employ that person as the halftime director or assistant, rather than be required to reject them and employ an additional central office staff simply because they held the certificate.”

The House approved Senate Bill 62 on a vote of 86 to 14. On Wednesday, the Senate accepted the House changes, approved the bill and sent it to the governor.

Two bills get through committee.

The House Education Committee approved two other bills affecting public education this week.

On Monday, the committee originated House Bill 4619. The purpose of the bill is to direct 20 percent of the growth in local share money to be used to support the implementation of comprehensive systems for teacher and leader induction and professional growth. The new provisions also would include the factors to be taken into account in making allocations to the counties, provide that a district may not receive less than 2016-2017 allocation from the line items for Teacher Mentors and Principal Mentorships, and require that the funding allocated is to be used for implementation of comprehensive systems for teacher and leader induction and professional growth.

Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the committee, said the affected section of state code was enacted in 2012, but discussion about it began in 2009, when the Education Department had an evaluation task force. At that time, West Virginia was competing for a Race to the Top grant, he said, and then-Gov. Joe Manchin pushed for a new evaluation system heavily weighted on test scores. The House Education Committee twice rejected that approach in favor of using multiple measures, Mohr said.

“What that does is allow counties a fair amount of flexibility to put together their own programs on how they’re going to support new teachers when they come on board as well as how they support those teachers that are struggling with things and get them the kind of help they need at the school level to improve.” – Dave Mohr

House Bill 4619 would address the continuous systems of support for teacher induction and professional growth, he said. “What that does is allow counties a fair amount of flexibility to put together their own programs on how they’re going to support new teachers when they come on board as well as how they support those teachers that are struggling with things and get them the kind of help they need at the school level to improve,” he said.

Mohr said legislative staff followed up with the principals who were involved in the process. One principal talked about going through the process and putting together a nice plan to take to the county school board only to find that the board already had spent the money budgeted for professional development on other things, he said. Thus, he said, much of what was intended has not worked out so well in practice.

Also, Mohr said, the line-items in the Education Department’s budget for mentoring teachers and principals have decreased from about $1 million in 2012 to about $600,000 this year.

Committee leaders and staff looked at how to get more funding down to the school level, he said, and they looked at the School Aid Formula, which covers many things but not professional development in generating funds for county districts. Districts do spend a lot of money on professional development – about $37 million for about 37,000 employees, which comes out to about $1,000 a year per employee, he said.

“What this change in Step 7 would do is capture about 20 percent of the growth in local share and put it in a line-item that’s dedicated to those continuous systems of support for teacher induction and professional growth,” Mohr said. It would have five factors, he said, although four are similar to what’s currently done:

  • The number of fulltime-equivalent teachers employed in the county with zero years of experience;
  • The total number of fulltime-equivalent teachers employed in the county with one year of experience, two years of experience and three years of experience.
  • The number of fulltime-equivalent principals and assistant principals in their first or second year of employment; and
  • The number of fulltime principals in new assignments.

Mohr said the fifth factor would be the needs identified in the strategic plan for continuous improvement. After approval by the House Education Committee, House Bill 4619 went to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.

The other bill approved by the House Education Committee is House Bill 4428. Its purpose is to allow training hours earned through public school education or apprenticeship to count towards an applicant’s occupational certification and/or licensure. Mohr said it would allow students to move into occupational licensing after taking career-technical education courses in high school without having to then take similar courses.

The bill has gone to the full House of Delegates.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate had less action than the House of Delegates this week on public education-related bills, but at least two moved forward in Senate committees.

One is Senate Bill 465, which is designed to clarify mandatory requirements on reporting suspected child abuse or neglect, including child sexual abuse. Hank Hager, counsel for the Senate Education Committee, told committee members the bill was recommended by the Task Force for Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, which was created by statute.

“The overall purpose of the bill is to simplify mandatory reporting requirements in cases of suspected child abuse and neglect, including sexual abuse.” – Hank Hager

“The overall purpose of the bill is to simplify mandatory reporting requirements in cases of suspected child abuse and neglect, including sexual abuse,” he said. It would clarify that sexual abuse and sexual assault constitute abuse of a child for reporting purposes, he said, and it would reduce the time for reporting from 48 hours to 24 hours.

Hager explained that current law has one section with a reporting requirement that applies to many people, including medical, dental or mental health professionals and teachers. Another section imposes reporting requirements on all persons age 18 and above, he said, and a third section imposes reporting requirements on school personnel. He said the bill would consolidate those requirements into one section. It also would list the types of people who would be mandated reporters.

Emily Chittenden-Laird, director of the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network, told the committee that the recommended changes are a result of House Bill 2527 from 2015. That legislation was called Erin Merryn’s Law after a survivor of child sexual abuse.

Chittenden-Laird said Senate Bill 465 is one of two bills this year that are based on recommendations from the Task Force for Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. The other is House Bill 4402, which could pass in the House of Delegates as early as Friday. If that bill would become law, beginning July 1, 2019, children in grades kindergarten through 12 would receive age-appropriate safety information at least once per school year with a preference for providing it four times per academic year. School personnel also would receive training regarding child sexual abuse.

The Senate Education Committee approved Senate Bill 465 and sent it to the Senate Judiciary Committee for further consideration.

Also this week, the Senate Finance Committee approved Senate Bill 319. As amended by the committee, the bill would eliminate the requirement for students to achieve at least a 3.0 grade-point average in high school to qualify for the PROMISE scholarship. It started out as a bill to eliminate the requirement for home-schooled students to obtain an equivalent to a high school diploma, such as a general equivalency degree (GED) or Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC). But members of the committee decided the fairest way to handle the situation would be to eliminate the requirement for a 3.0 GPA.

Sen. Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, proposed that change. He argued that, if legislators were going to eliminate a requirement for the home-schooled students, they also should do it for the other students. So he proposed the amendment to eliminate the requirement that public and private school students must achieve 3.0 grade-point averages to qualify for PROMISE.

Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, supported the amendment. “All things being equal, the only qualifier of the success a student will have in college is probably that ACT or SAT test,” he said. “Folks across the state pay taxes. They should have the same opportunity.”

“Only a standardized test could objectively evaluate whether a student is qualified for the PROMISE scholarship.” – Sen. Dave Sypolt

Also supporting the amendment was Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston. “Grade-point averages, I believe, can be a little bit subjective,” he said. “Only a standardized test could objectively evaluate whether a student is qualified for the PROMISE scholarship.”

The committee changed the bill after Sen. Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha, complained that some people stigmatize home-schooled students. “The stigma is alive and well, and, I would argue, borders on animus in the state legislature among some people,” he said.

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said he supported the bill, but he could see a downside to it. Noting that he previously served on the Higher Education Policy Commission and on the PROMISE Scholarship subcommittee, he said the change might result in raising the requirement to qualify for PROMISE on college entrance tests. The current requirement is to score 22 on ACT or 1100 on SAT. If that requirement would be raised, Stollings said, students in small, rural schools would be affected the most. He said it could squeeze out students in rural districts like his, and those students probably need PROMISE more than students from more affluent families.

Senate Bill 319 now goes to the full Senate.

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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.