Legislative News

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The Thrasher Group

McKinley Architects & Engineers

March 2, 2018 - Volume 38 Issue 8

By Jim Wallace

After several days of a statewide strike by West Virginia teachers and school service personnel and a week of turmoil, twists and turns at the Capitol, the one thing that is clear is that those striking teachers and service workers have had a profound effect on this year’s legislative session. The outcome is yet to be determined, but even those who have been the biggest targets of the strikers’ anger and frustration – Gov. Jim Justice and Senate President Mitch Carmichael – credit them for leading the leaders toward making changes they otherwise would not have made.

“We are a state at a crossroads, and we’ve created a powder keg.” – Senate President Mitch Carmichael

“We are a state at a crossroads, and we’ve created a powder keg,” Carmichael said in address to the Senate on Thursday. ”And we’ve heard, and we’re responded, and we’re trying. And I hope that the people can see that this legislature has done these things, these enormous things to truly address the issues that have been brought to us by the teachers, by the public employees, by the public about ensuring the long-term stability and viability of PEIA, while providing as much of a pay raise as we can do with our fiscal condition.”

In addition to his fellow senators, Carmichael, R-Jackson, spoke to teachers and service workers who filled the Senate galleries, even though many teachers and service workers booed him outside the Senate chamber about an hour earlier.

Likewise, in a news conference Tuesday evening, Justice conceded that teachers and service workers had turned his viewpoint around even though they gave him rough receptions at public meetings Monday in Wheeling, Martinsburg and Morgantown.

“I have no problem in the world readjusting my views with knowledge from others.” – Gov. Jim Justice

“I have no problem in the world readjusting my views with knowledge from others,” Justice said. “But I’m telling you my commitment to education has been genuine from day one. And I hope to goodness that the powers to be, whether it be in the Senate that were trying to do the prudent thing and the House that was trying to do the prudent thing will look and say, ‘This is an investment in West Virginia.’”

That investment he referred to was his decision to give teachers and school service personnel 5 percent raises in the next fiscal year rather than just 2 percent raises with more to follow later. In a surprise to just about everyone, Justice decided to do that by revising revenue estimates upward for the coming year, which would cover the costs of the higher raises. He and leaders of the unions for teachers and service personnel thought that might be enough to end the strike that had begun the previous Thursday, but it wasn’t.

Many teachers and service workers said they were more concerned about the costs of their health care insurance through the Public Employees Insurance Agency than getting the higher pay raise. They also said they didn’t trust the governor and the legislature to find a permanent fix for the problems with PEIA. However, by Thursday, when the Senate declined to go along with the governor and the House of Delegates in approving the 5 percent pay raise, many teachers and school service workers criticized Senate Republicans, who hold the majority, for not passing the pay raise bill.

Situation evolved during the week.

It was a week that defied predictions. Here is what happened day by day.

On Monday, thousands of teachers and service workers filled the halls of the Capitol, as they had done the previous Thursday and Friday with chanting and singing about their demands for better pay and health care benefits. Others around the state stood in front of their schools and did the same.

“Our commitment to finding a solution has been consistent. We stand together for our students, our communities and our state. We challenge the House leader, the Senate leader and the governor to bring us to the table today.” – Christine Campbell

“Our issues are clear,” Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said to a rally at the Capitol. “Our commitment to finding a solution has been consistent. We stand together for our students, our communities and our state. We challenge the House leader, the Senate leader and the governor to bring us to the table today. We are ready. We are willing. We stand on the right side of public education by being back here and outside our schools tomorrow. Because we are 55 united, we will not be back in our school tomorrow for our students, our communities and our state.”

“55 united,” the teachers and service workers chanted.

Meanwhile, Justice spent Monday away from the Capitol, going to public meetings in Wheeling, Martinsburg and Morgantown. “You need to be back in classrooms. Our kids need to be back in classrooms,” he said to teachers in Wheeling. Then, he added, “That’s your decision… I’m not putting pressure on you to go back to the classroom.”

Justice told them he already had given them and other West Virginians a big gift by turning around West Virginia’s economy and state finances from “hideous” to “hopeful” over the past 12 months. “If monies come and we can generate additional severance dollars from gas, I will dedicate whatever portion it needs to be dedicated to fix PEIA permanently,” he said.

While some people had talked about possibly holding a special legislative session to handle the problems facing education, Justice tweeted at 12:53 p.m. Monday: “We should not call a special session for education. We should call a special session to resolve the gas issue. You have two trump cards to play — co-tenancy and joint development. Co-tenancy has already passed the House.” Co-tenancy and joint development are two issues involved with handling drilling on land where many people hold the mineral rights. At 12:54 p.m., he tweeted “Co-tenancy is going to the Senate. If you don’t help me stop it, it will arrive on my desk and we’ll have gotten nothing.” He said he would veto the co-tenancy bill, House Bill 4268, if couldn’t get more money out of natural gas development.

Later, Justice tweeted: “I believe there is a chance of your PEIA being fixed permanently by a severance tax on oil and gas if we have a special session.”

But House Minority Leader Tim Miley responded with his own tweet at 5:15 p.m. Monday: “There were bills introduced during the legislative session to do just that. What makes you think it will be accomplished in a special session when the bills didn’t even make it on any agenda during the regular session?”

On Tuesday, Justice returned to the Capitol. He spent time talking with union leaders and others before emerging late in the day for a news conference at which he said he “got beat on a lot” at the public meetings on Monday. “That really doesn’t matter to me much because at the end of the day, getting beat on – well, I’ve had that happen to me before,” he said.

Then he told a story about explaining to a young boy named Gideon at one of the meeting what an investment is. He said the boy then asked him, “Wouldn’t it be an investment to invest in smart teachers that would make me smart? And then I could, in turn, turn around and do smart, good things for our state.”

“I’ve said many, many, many times we ought to look at education as an economic driver. But maybe I was looking at it as what was the prudent thing to do and not necessarily looking at education as an investment.” – Gov. Jim Justice

Justice said Gideon was right. “And to be perfectly honest, I was looking at this maybe not correctly,” the governor said. “You know, I’ve said many, many, many times we ought to look at education as an economic driver. But maybe I was looking at it as what was the prudent thing to do and not necessarily looking at education as an investment.”

After going home, Justice put a lot of thought into the matter, dug into the numbers and then asked union leaders what would make them happy. “I didn’t commit to them to any numbers, and surely they didn’t commit to me any numbers,” he said. “And after that, I called the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House.”

Running the numbers again and again, the governor said, he looked not for the most prudent investment but for the happiest investments. That’s when he and his staff figured they could give teachers, school service workers and others bigger raises by raising the estimate of how much revenue the state will take in. The legislature is required to pass as state budget that fits into the revenue estimate provided by the governor. Justice said he decided that he could give legislators a revenue estimate $58 million higher than the one he gave them at the beginning of the year because he expects West Virginia’s economy to benefit from road construction financed with bonds that voters approved last fall and from the federal tax cuts passed by Congress a few months ago.

That, he said, would allow the state to give teachers and service workers 5 percent raises in the next fiscal year rather than the 2 percent raises in Senate Bill 267, which he already signed into law on February 21. He said State Police troopers and other state workers would get 3 percent raises.

“All of it works,” Justice said. “We’re going to appoint a task force right off the get-go, and we’re going to dig into PEIA and try and look for solutions that are permanent fix to PEIA. As far my commitment to co-tenancy, I’m going to have to move off my position of vetoing co-tenancy if it comes to me, and I’m very hopeful that if we move forward we’ll find ways, whether it be joint development or whatever it may be in that gas industry that maybe we can look to raise severance in the gas industry as well as across the coal industry in a tiering of severance. But for now, we’re not going to tie that to co-tenancy in any way. The long and the short of it is just this: We need our kids back in school, and we need our teachers back in school. They want to be back in school. Our service personnel want to be back in school.”

Justice expected teachers and service workers to return to their jobs on Thursday after taking Wednesday as a “cooling off day.” So did union leaders, who addressed the news conference after Justice rushed off to coach the Greenbrier East girls’ basketball team in a game against Charleston’s George Washington High School.

“We are taking this bill in good faith at this point. But we reserve the right, if things get bogged down…our people may have to be called back out again. We have to see how the legislative process goes. But our teachers and service personnel want to be back in the classrooms. They want to be with their students.” – Dale Lee

“We’re calling for our teachers and service personnel to go back in schools on Thursday,” Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said. “We are taking this bill in good faith at this point. But we reserve the right, if things get bogged down…our people may have to be called back out again. We have to see how the legislative process goes. But our teachers and service personnel want to be back in the classrooms. They want to be with their students.”

Likewise, Campbell said, “This has been a huge step in the right direction.” She added, “Our teachers are saying to us, ‘We know that we did this.’ And we’re saying to them, they did this by standing up and because they went, they talked to the governor, they talked to all of you, and they have made a difference.”

Joe White, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association, said PEIA was one of the biggest concerns of service personnel, and he was satisfied that they would have a voice in the task force to address its funding. “I think we can move forward again,” he said.

“This was clearly a movement of the people,” White said. “They’re the ones that told us what to do. I think we all have to agree their voice was heard very clearly.”

“There are ways you can commit funds to PEIA that don’t necessarily require it to come from one stream of revenue. We’ve done that before. We committed $95 million at the top of general revenue to pay off the old workers’ comp claims.” – Mike Hall

Mike Hall, a former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee who now serves as the governor’s chief of staff, said he would be chairman of the task force on PEIA and already had ideas on how to address its funding problems.

“There are ways you can commit funds to PEIA that don’t necessarily require it to come from one stream of revenue,” he said. “We’ve done that before. We committed $95 million at the top of general revenue to pay off the old workers’ comp claims.”

Seemingly dead bill gets revived for pay raises.

Some people wondered how the legislature would approve the higher raises pledged by Justice so late in the legislative session. Wednesday was Crossover Day, when each house was to finish work on bills originated in that house. House bills that failed to get through the House and Senate bills that failed to get through the Senate would die. There is an exception for budget bills, but instead of using that option, the House Finance Committee simply moved quickly on House Bill 4145, which had been sitting idle since mid-January.

That bill contained the governor’s original pay raise proposal, which would have given teachers raises of 1 percent in each of the next five years and a bit less to service personnel. The House had not acted on it because the Senate version, Senate Bill 267, moved instead and became law, after some changes, when the governor signed it last month. Late Wednesday afternoon, the House Finance Committee amended House Bill 4145 to provide 5 percent raises next year for teachers and school service personnel and 3 percent raises for State Police troopers.

Mike McKown, state budget director, told the committee the 5 percent raise for teachers would give them $2,020 each at a cost to the state of $49.8 million. He said the 5 percent raise for service personnel would give them $1,100 for 200 days of work at a cost to the state of $15.9 million. For 3 percent raises, State Police would get $1,296 per trooper at a cost to the state of $979,000, he said. The total cost of the bill would be $66.7 million, McKown said, and to add 3 percent raises for all other state workers would cost the state another $21.1 million for a grand total of $86.9 million.

House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, noted that the governor’s revised revenue estimate is for $58 million. He asked McKown is he had confidence in Justice’s reasoning about the effects of the road construction and the federal tax reform.

McKown said the revenue estimate was adjusted in just two categories. “It was adjusted by $15 million in sales tax and $43 million in personal income tax,” he said. “Now, $58 million is about a 1.3 percent increase over his original estimate made a couple of months ago.”

“The governor is absolutely confident that we will meet those revenue estimates.” – Mike McKown

Although he couldn’t speak to the details, McKown said, “The governor is absolutely confident that we will meet those revenue estimates.”

Asked about the growth in state revenue in recent years, McKown said it grew 2.4 percent in fiscal year 2015, dropped 2 percent in 2016 and grew 2 percent in 2017. Skeptical, Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, asked if the governor expects state revenue to grow more than 4 percent now. McKown replied, “The average over the last 30 years, general revenue has grown over 3.5 percent.”

Asked about the drop in severance tax revenue, McKown said it went from $414 million in 2015 to $321 million last year. “Severance has been why the state has been why we did not meet budget estimates over the last few years,” he said.

Even though some delegates expressed a lack of confidence in the governor’s new revenue estimate, the House Finance Committee amended House Bill 4145 to give State Police troopers a 5 percent pay raise and approved the bill. It went quickly to the full House of Delegates that evening. The House suspended its rule for a bill to be read on the floor on three separate days and voted 98 to one to pass it with only Delegate Saira Blair, R-Berkeley, opposed to it.

House Minority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, told his colleagues, “What motivates me, friends, is that I hope it gets students back in the classrooms. What that means, however that needs to happen, I would like to get the students back in the classrooms. They’re entitled to it.”

But even before the House took that action, many teachers and service workers said it wasn’t good enough for them to call off their strike. Instead of using Wednesday as a day for cooling off, thousands of them again showed up at the Capitol to protest. Many said they were more concerned about the costs of their health care coverage through PEIA than about pay and didn’t trust the governor and legislative leaders to fix it permanently. They defied their union leaders’ call for them to return to work on Thursday, as well as a call from state Supt. Steve Paine.

“I am expecting all schools across the state to be open on Thursday, March 1, and have asked each county superintendent to direct employees to report at normal time on that date to resume the school year,” Paine said in a statement released to the news media.

Governor creates task force on PEIA.

In response to strikers’ skepticism, Justice put his pledge for a task force to fix PEIA in writing late Wednesday in an executive order and a letter to all state employees. “There are several possibilities that will be looked at for the revenue we need to solve the PEIA issues once and for all,” he wrote in the letter. “The possibilities of additional severance taxes on oil and gas, gaming revenue from sports betting, tax dollars being generated from our roads projects, continuing growth in our economy and the possibility of putting the insurance out for competitive bids are just a few; everything is going to be looked at.”

The executive order says the task force will include:

  • The governor’s chief of staff as chairman;
  • One current member of the PEIA Finance Board;
  • Three senators, including two Republicans and one Democrat;
  • Three delegates, including two Republicans and one Democrat;
  • A representative of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia;
  • A representative of the West Virginia Education Association;
  • A representative of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association;
  • Three fulltime public employees;
  • One retired education employee;
  • One retired state employee; and
  • Seven others appointed by the governor for their knowledge and expertise of the insurance industry and business.

The task force is to hold is organizational meeting before March 15 and issue its final report to legislators during their interim meetings in December. In the meantime, the task force will be expected to hold public hearings in all 55 counties.

On Thursday, the Senate declined to follow the House’s lead in passing the new pay raise bill. Instead of taking up House Bill 4145, the Senate assigned it to its Finance Committee.

Carmichael makes his case.

In an impassioned speech on the Senate floor, Carmichael on Senate floor said Senate leaders had heard from teachers and service workers, including some he had met in his office, that PEIA was their real concern. He said the needed to know what legislators and the governor already had done for them in the past few weeks.

“They need to hear it,” Carmichael said. “Then they need to see it on paper, and I get that.”

The accomplishments he listed included getting PEIA premiums and benefits frozen through the next fiscal year, amending a sports-betting bill to funnel revenues into PEIA, allocating money to PEIA from the co-tenancy bill, and using another bill to set aside a portion of state budget surplus for stabilizing PEIA.

“Those are enormous contributions that frankly the people in these galleries and the people that have made us aware of this issue on a much more acute basis have achieved,” Carmichael said. “They’ve achieved those successes. So we celebrate that and the opportunity to do those things.”

In regard to the governor’s revised revenue estimates, he said, legislators must be good financial stewards and be skeptical.

“Certainly, we’re skeptical,” Carmichael said. “I think all people are skeptical when we see a revised revenue estimate after a contentious meeting. So we’re going to think of a thoughtful manner to validate these numbers.”

If the higher revenue estimate can be supported, he said, Senate leaders want to put that money into PEIA rather than giving higher pay raises.

“That’s an enormous sum of money that would probably otherwise not have been achieved if not for the wonderful input from our teachers and school service personnel and public employees around the state,” Carmichael said. “These are wonderful achievements that they can take credit for and that we, as good fiscal stewards of the taxpayer dollars, are pursuing. In addition, we will be providing the pay raise that has already been adopted. It’s not enough. We’d like to do more. We’re going to do more as we move forward as the state of West Virginia together with our valuable public employees to lift the ship of state higher for everyone.”

“The PEIA stabilization helps not only teachers. It helps all public employees, retirees and others around the state. So we’re listening. We’re listening. We’re trying. We’re putting the efforts around the money that can be absolutely substantiated. We’re putting real dollars into the PEIA Stabilization Fund, not only now but in future out-year budgets.” -- Senate President Mitch Carmichael

In addition, he addressed another issue that upset many teachers and school service workers – several bills that attacked the use of seniority in hiring and transfer issues and attacked labor in other ways. “We’ve heard from them that there’s many of these seniority bills that have caused concern within their community, and we’re killing those bills,” Carmichael said.

Pledging to work collaboratively with teachers, service workers and other public employees, he said, “The PEIA stabilization helps not only teachers. It helps all public employees, retirees and others around the state. So we’re listening. We’re listening. We’re trying. We’re putting the efforts around the money that can be absolutely substantiated. We’re putting real dollars into the PEIA Stabilization Fund, not only now but in future out-year budgets.”

Carmichael concluded by saying the public employees deserve a response with real, credible numbers. But several Democrats urged the Senate to pass House Bill 4145.

“We are a state in crisis, and I think we’ve taken our eye off the ball. If we don’t raise these salaries, we’re going to continue to lose teachers across the state.” Sen. Roman Prezioso

“We are a state in crisis, and I think we’ve taken our eye off the ball,” Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said. “If we don’t raise these salaries, we’re going to continue to lose teachers across the state.”

Prezioso said neighboring states are paying teachers better, and West Virginia is losing the opportunity to get young teachers to put roots down and start families. He said he trusted Mike Hall and others who help the governor with budget matters. If the budget would not work out, he said, legislators could fix it later.

“We’ve already stabilized PEIA for one year,” Prezioso said in reference to the decision to freeze benefits and premiums over the next fiscal year. “We need those salaries.”

Prezioso tried to get the Senate to vote to bring House Bill 4145 up for immediate consideration, but Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, countered with a motion to table that move. The motion to table consideration passed on a vote of 20 to 14 with two Republicans – Senate Education Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, and Sen. Lynne Arvon, R-Raleigh – joining Democrats in voting against it.

So, as Carmichael planned, the bill went to the Senate Finance Committee, but Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said he had no intention of rushing into a meeting of his committee on Thursday to address it. He said the earliest his committee would meet would be this afternoon, and that would be to take up the budget bill, Senate Bill 152, and not necessarily House Bill 4145.

“I don’t like feeling bullied into when we’re going to do something,” Blair said. “And I made it very clear that we weren’t going to meet today.”

Thus, with a little more than one week left in the 60-day legislative session and the statewide strike in its seventh day, it looks as though negotiations over pay and benefits for teachers and school service workers – and an end to the strike – will stretch into the weekend and possibly next week. How and when the strike will end is anyone’s guess.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate approved several bills affecting public education in the past week and is working on others it received from the House of Delegates. Among the bill approved are those affecting the length of the school year, mandated reporting of sexual abuse of children, the establishment of magnet schools for high school students at colleges and universities, and the establishment of the Farm-to-School Grant program.

On Monday, the Senate approved Senate Bill 573, which changed greatly from its introduced version. As introduced, it would have provided that the instructional term for students would begin on the Tuesday after Labor Day and end the Friday before Memorial Day. But as the bill’s lead sponsor, Senate Education Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, explained when the bill was up for a vote by the full Senate, it now would merely allow county superintendents to reduce the 180 instructional day requirement by up to five days after the primary statewide assessment programs have been administered. He said he is “not a big fan of the 180-day concept,” based on his previous service on the Monroe County school board and his wife’s work as a school principal.

“It puts skin in the game for our kids. If I was an administrator or teacher, I would probably use it as a behavioral mechanism: Buckle down on these assessment tests. Let’s get this thing over with.” – Sen. Kenny Mann

“I’ve said this time after time, after the assessment tests are given each and every year, I personally feel we’re just filling seat time,” Mann said. “I think that we can do a savings here. The intent of this bill for knocking these five instructional days off and taking the students to 175 days would simply be for a few reasons. One, it puts skin in the game for our kids. If I was an administrator or teacher, I would probably use it as a behavioral mechanism: Buckle down on these assessment tests. Let’s get this thing over with. We’ll reduce your days, if weather has cooperated. If weather has been pretty bad, then the superintendents will have to adjust. It also gives a wind-down time for our educators.”

Mann suggested the bill’s provisions could save almost $400,000 in fuel costs statewide for school districts.

Speaking in favor of the bill, Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said, “If you have children, you got to have faith in the teachers that teach them to have an understanding of whether they’ve done what they need to get that child through that grade. This gives some local flexibility, and that’s all. And I certainly have faith in our superintendents and our teachers to be able to have the flexibility to be able to work with five days.”

The Senate approved Senate Bill 573 on a vote of 34 to nothing. It has gone to the House Education Committee for further consideration.

Another bill the Senate approved Monday is Senate Bill 465, which would amend a single section of state code about mandatory reporting of child abuse or neglect. It was a recommendation from the Task Force on Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children, which was established by law.

“The overall purpose of the bill is to simplify the mandatory reporting requirements,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Trump told his colleagues. “Specifically, this bill clarifies that sexual abuse and sexual assault constitute abuse of the child for reporting purposes.”

The bill would reduce the period in which a mandated reporter must report suspected abuse or neglect from 48 hours down to 24 hours and require that mandatory reporters directly report known or suspected cases of abuse or neglect to police or the Department of Health and Human Resources.

“It removes some language related to the reporting requirements that were applicable only for educational employees,” Trump said. “And it removes language applicable to conduct between students or students and school personnel.”

“There were questions under our former law as to: Are you covered if you make your report to the principal or the superintendent of schools? The answer to the question is now no. You report to the police and DHHR – State Police, sheriff’s department, the Child Protective Services of the DHHR.” – Sen. Charles Trump

Noting that many striking teachers and school service workers were in the Senate galleries as he spoke, he said they should be interested in the specifics of the bill. Trump said, “There were questions under our former law as to: Are you covered if you make your report to the principal or the superintendent of schools? The answer to the question is now no. You report to the police and DHHR – State Police, sheriff’s department, the Child Protective Services of the DHHR. This is designed to address, in part, the situation that happened at Penn State…. There were people who said, ‘Well we let Coach Paterno know, and he was the head of the program.’ No. The law now, if this bill becomes law and passes, is everybody reports to Child Protective Services and to the police.”

The Senate voted 33 to nothing to approve Senate Bill 465. It has gone to the House Judiciary Committee.

Also on Monday, the Senate approved Senate Bill 507, which would establish magnet schools on the campuses of colleges and universities throughout West Virginia under the name Katherine Johnson Academy. Johnson was a West Virginia who went on to work for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as a mathematician and play a significant role in the early years of the space program. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 and was portrayed in the acclaimed 2016 movie, “Hidden Figures.”

One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Greg Boso, R-Nicholas, explained that the bill would allow West Virginias to do what millions of high school students across America are doing by taking classes in post-secondary option programs. “Those post-secondary option programs…are accelerated academic programs that allow high school high-achieving students at the high school level the opportunity to advance academically at an accelerated pace by taking real college classes from real college professors on real college campuses while still enrolled in their high school program,” he said.

Boso said such magnet schools can be found in 4,340 locations across the country with 3.5 million students enrolled. Ohio’s program has 52,000 students enrolled, saving their parents about $120 million in college costs. “In West Virginia, we have zero magnet schools with zero students enrolled,” although moments later, he referred to a magnet program in northern West Virginia in which 12 students were enrolled in a magnet program, saving their families $72,000.

The bill would create two specialized residential programs: the Academy of Mathematics and Science and the Academy for the Performing Arts. It would set up a board of trustees with five members appointed by the governor. The chairman would be the chief executive officer.

Collaboration agreements would be worked out with all parties, including county school boards, particularly in areas with college programs for commuters. The students would have to meet minimum eligibility requirements for the PROMISE scholarship, except for being high school graduates. They also would have to meet minimum core course requirements for secondary school students in English, mathematics, social science and science.

“What that means is that the money normally would go to the board of education for that particular student from the state level would follow the student then into the magnet school program.” – Sen. Greg Boso

Boso said money would follow the student. “What that means is that the money normally would go to the board of education for that particular student from the state level would follow the student then into the magnet school program,” he said. “But what it says is that no more than 90 percent of the money associated with the commuter program would be going to the college program. But most importantly, what it means is that the money that typically comes from the federal government to the local county still remains within the county. It does not get transferred to the magnet school program. So as a result, the fiscal impact on the state is not additional funding for students. We allow the acceptance of PROMISE scholarships, which means that it’s neutral, and there is limited personnel and administrative costs. At the county level, obviously there’s going to be a little bit of exchange of money for the transfer of funds between the county and the collaborative agreement at the magnet school for the STEM program. The county still receives again the money that comes from the federal government for federal enrollment.”

The bill also could increase enrollment in public schools, Boso said, because “those people who are now participating in nonpublic education opportunities would be required to enroll at the local board of education in order to qualify.”

Parents could save tens of thousands of dollars in college costs, he said. “It provides the opportunity for our public schools to expand to provide families a quality choice in education, Boso said. “It provides an opportunity for our colleges and universities to retain…the brightest and best here in West Virginia.”

The Senate approved Senate Bill 465 on a vote of 33 to zero.

One other bill to get through the Senate on Monday is Senate Bill 572, which would establish the Farm-To-School Grant Program. As one of the sponsors, Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, told his colleagues, it would allow the commissioner of agriculture to award grants of up to $25,000 in two categories. One for be each of the top five public schools that purchase the largest percentage of local food in comparison to the student population with no more than one school per county eligible for the grant award. The second would be for each of the top five county school districts that purchase the largest percentage of local foods in comparison to the districts’ student populations.

The bill would create a special revenue account in the state treasury to be administered by the commissioner of agriculture. Administrative expenses payable from the fund could not exceed 10 percent of the funds deposited in any fiscal year, and that amount would be capped at $25,000 annually. The remainder of the funds would have to be used exclusively for the program, but no more than $275,000 of the grant money could be allocated to the Department of Agriculture in any fiscal year. The commissioner would have to consult with the Department of Education on rules.

“This is a competition. It is completely voluntary, and its objective is to improve the nutrition and health outcomes for our school-age children.” – Sen. Dave Sypolt

“This is a competition,” Sypolt said. “It is completely voluntary, and its objective is to improve the nutrition and health outcomes for our school-age children.”

The Senate voted 33 to nothing to approve Senate Bill 572.

On Wednesday, the Senate approved Senate Bill 534, which would increase the penalty for using tobacco and tobacco-derived products on school property. Trump told fellow senators the bill includes a definition of e-cigarettes.

“It increases the fine that can be assessed,” he said. “Under current law, tobacco in a place where it’s a crime to have tobacco on school property, the fine is not less than $1 nor more than $5. This bill will raise the maximum fine to $25, and it’ll make it clear that e-cigarettes are prohibited in those same areas as well.”

The Senate approved Senate Bill 534 on a vote of 32 to one with Sen. Michael Azinger, R-Wood, voting against it.

Other bills neared Senate votes.

A bill scheduled for a vote in the Senate today is House Bill 4138. It would require all schools and day cares that use heating systems or other devices that emit carbon monoxide to install carbon monoxide detectors.

Also scheduled for a vote in the Senate today is House Bill 4619, which would direct 20 percent of the growth in local share to be used to support the implementation of comprehensive systems for teacher and leader induction and professional growth. A fiscal note from the Department of Education states there would be no fiscal effect unless the amount of the local share would increase. The House approved the bill 92 to nothing.

“According to code, we do a system of support plans that’s part of the county and school strategic plans, and part of that is how they will mentor not only the first year teachers but one through three, three through five, and their experienced teachers to make sure that they get the professional learning that they deserve,” Michele Blatt of the Department of Education told the Senate Finance Committee. “So this will just allow the districts to have additional funds to flow into that, so they can meet the needs of each individual school.”

Likewise, getting close to a vote in the Senate is House Bill 4402, which the Senate Judiciary Committee approved on Wednesday. It would attempt to prevent sexual abuse by educating students in kindergarten through 12th grade and providing training to public school employees.

“The way that this information is communicated is very developmentally sensitive and appropriate.” – Emily Chittenden-Laird

“The way that this information is communicated is very developmentally sensitive and appropriate,” Emily Chittenden-Laird, director of the West Virginia Child Advocacy Network, told the Judiciary Committee. For example, she said, instructors of young children would refer to parts of the body covered by swimsuits and say those are the parts others are not allowed to touch.

Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, said, “I don’t think this goes far enough, but it is a good start.” He said he wanted to put a social worker in each district to work on preventing sexual abuse.

Senate Education Committee approved two bills.

“It’s a good bill because many times we come with ideas, but they have a cost, and here we have a good idea with no cost.” – Delegate Chad Lovejoy

On Thursday, the Senate Education Committee approved House Bill 4478, which would authorize public schools to create a Shared Table program to allow for distribution of excess school food to students and others who have food insecurities. The bill’s lead sponsor, Delegate Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, told the committee, “It’s a good bill because many times we come with ideas, but they have a cost, and here we have a good idea with no cost. These meals are being prepared. These meals are paid for. These meals are being reimbursed with federal dollars.”

Lovejoy said the issue has come up now because of a June 22, 2016, memo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “In that memo, they, I think, tried to quell some concerns that many states had of whether they could do this,” he said. “The truth is it’s been going on in a lot of our schools for some time, but we’ve had teachers and food service directors scared or worried that they were going to get in trouble.”

Also on Thursday, the Senate Education Committee took up House Bill 3061. The bill would encourage a limited cohort of schools – not more than 20 initially – to implement mastery-based education through the Innovation in Education program. A fiscal note from the Department of Education indicated that the initial cost to implement the program would be about $125,000. Upon implementation of the program, it would cost about $1 million in fiscal year 2020.

The committee ran out of time to finish work on the bill, so House Bill 3061 was again on the committee’s agenda for a meeting today, but it was removed from the agenda at the beginning of the meeting.

Remaining on the agenda for today’s meeting was House Bill 4183, which would remove certain restrictions on achievement tests administered to non-public students. The committee made minor changes in the bill and sent it to the full Senate.

Also at today’s meeting, the committee originated a resolution to have legislators study during interim meetings leading up to the 2019 regular legislative session the issue of whether school boards should provide students with free feminine hygiene products.

Other House-passed bills the Senate could yet pass include:

  • House Bill 2799: This bill would to prohibit a superintendent of schools from requiring a physical examination to be included to the application for a minor’s work permit unless it would be required by the prospective employer. The bill passed House on January 30 and went to the Senate Education Committee, where it has yet to move.
  • House Bill 3089: This bill would provide a transition to the county board of education level of the process for review and adoption of instructional resources required to be used in the schools under the jurisdiction of the county board. House passed it on January 22 on a vote of 72 to 24. It went to the Senate Education Committee, where it has yet to move.
  • House Bill 4006: This bill would do several things, including eliminate the Department of Education and the Arts and redistribute its agencies elsewhere in state government. The House approved it January 31 on a vote of 60-36-3. It went to the Senate Education Committee, where it has not moved.
  • House Bill 4042: This bill would redefine a school zone to facilitate placement of school zone signs. The House approved it February 20 on a vote of 96 to nothing. It has gone to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
  • House Bill 4219: This bill would permit employees of educational services cooperatives to participate in the State Teachers Retirement System. The House passed it February 23 on a vote of 92 to nothing. It was scheduled for second reading in the Senate on today, meaning it could pass on Monday or earlier, if the Senate would meet over the weekend.
  • House Bill 4402: This bill would revoke the teaching certificate any teacher convicted of any offense that requires the teacher to register as a sex offender. The House approved it February 16 on a vote of 96 to nothing. It was scheduled for second reading in Senate on today, meaning it could pass on Monday or earlier, if the Senate would meet over the weekend.
  • House Bill 4407: This bill would remove one of the requirements for eligibility for an alternative program teacher certificate. The requirement removed would be for the person to have an academic major or occupational area the same as or similar to subject matter he or she is being hired to teach. It passed in the House on February 13 on vote of 50 to 48. It was sent to the Senate Education Committee.
  • House Bill 4428: This bill would allow training hours earned through public school education or apprenticeship to count towards an applicant’s occupational certification and/or licensure. The House passed it February 20 on a vote of 96 to nothing. It has gone to the Senate Education Committee.

By Jim Wallace

Other than bills related to pay and benefits for teachers and school service workers, the House of Delegates passed two public education bills in the past week and is working on a few sent to the House from the Senate.

One bill the House passed is House Bill 4218. “This bill amends the member definitions to teaching and non-teaching employees covered under the Teachers Retirement System and Defined Contribution System to include employees of an educational service cooperative,” House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, told his colleagues when the bill was up for a vote.

“House Bill 2711, enacted last session, repeals RESAs effective June 30 of this year but allows county boards who see value in providing some of their programs and services on a regional basis to form a cooperative to do so,” he said. “Last year’s bill provided for coverage in state retirement and health insurance for ESC employees, but there was some confusion over whether retirement coverage would be TRS [Teachers Retirement System] or PERS, the Public Employee Retirement System. Because current RESA employees who may become ESC employees when the transition occurs are currently members of either TRS or the Defined Contribution System, the Consolidated Public Retirement Board recommended changing the member definition to remove the confusion.”

The House approved House Bill 4219 on a vote of 92 to zero last Friday.

“The purpose of this bill is to provide a more robust and reliable source of funding to support new teachers and leaders in their first years of employment.” – Delegate Paul Espinosa

The other bill that passed is House Bill 4619: “The purpose of this bill is to provide a more robust and reliable source of funding to support new teachers and leaders in their first years of employment,” Espinosa said. “This is a critical period when new graduates who are just beginning their careers in teaching are still developing the professional practice skills that will help them become accomplished teachers. It is also a period when the quality of support a new teacher receives during his or her first several years in the classroom can greatly influence the decision to remain in or exit the profession.”

Although the bill does not address pay or health care benefits for teachers, Espinosa indicated it could help keep teaching positions filled at a time when West Virginia has more than 700 teaching positions not filled by fulltime, fully certified teachers.

“At a time when we are discussing growing teacher shortages across the state, we can ill afford to lose newly recruited teachers due to the lack of adequate support,” he said. “The comprehensive systems of support for teacher and leader induction and professional growth referred to in this bill allows school systems a very flexible mechanism for how they will provide the needed support and mentoring for new teachers and principals and for those who are struggling. But these systems are significantly under-resourced at the state level. The current funding for this system has declined dramatically over the past six years due to mid-year, line-items reductions, and for the latest available fiscal year, allocated $128 per year per teacher with three or less years of experience for counties to provide new teacher induction and mentoring support.”

The bill would recapture 20 percent of the state aid reductions that occur due to the growth in local share and redirect it back to school districts for teacher and leader induction and professional growth. Espinosa said it would be the first recognition within the School Aid Formula of the value of high-quality professional development. The House approved House Bill 4619 on a vote of 92 to zero last Friday.

Senate bills get consideration in the House.

Among the Senate bills that have received attention this week from the House Education Committee is Senate Bill 319. It would allow home-schooled students to be eligible for the PROMISE scholarship without having to obtain a diploma equivalent such as a general equivalency degree (GED) or the Test Assessing Secondary Completion (TASC).

The Senate Finance Committee added a provision to the bill to drop the requirement for any student – public, private or home-schooled – to have a 3.0 grade-point average to qualify for PROMISE. That version passed out of the Senate, but the House Education Committee put the requirement back into the bill on Wednesday. One reason members cited for doing that was that a fiscal note from the Higher Education Policy Commission stated: “If the current entrance exam requirements of 22 on the ACT and 1100 on the SAT are maintained, the additional cost to provide the PROMISE scholarship at the mandated level of $4,750 per student would range between $4.3 million to $5 million.”

Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, said, “The reason there was a fiscal note was with the GPA out, we anticipated 1,100 more students would be eligible.” He asked, “Where were those 1,100 students? Were they home-schooled students or private school students or public school students? Do we know right now where those 1,100 students were?”

Matt Turner of the HEPC replied, “The number of home-schooled students in that group would be very small. If we did not have infusion of $5 million, then we would have to raise the score to de-qualify that number of students. The problem with that was we would affect the lowest-income students who are now currently qualifying for PROMISE.”

After restoring the GPA requirement, the committee approved Senate Bill 319 and sent it to the House Finance Committee for further consideration.

Another bill to receive approval from the House Education Committee this week is Senate Bill 561. It would increase the minimum contract price that requires the execution of a bond for the building or repairing of school property from $100 to $25,000.

“This bill amends a section of code that hasn’t been updated since 1951,” Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the committee, said. “The current section of code requires county boards to have a surety bond executed on any project for repair or construction on school property that exceeds $100. This bill updates that to the current level the SBA [School Building Authority] uses, which is $25,000.”

“If there was a fiscal note, based on the people I talked to, it would be a fair amount of savings for county boards from executing surety bonds on all those miniscule contracts.” – Dave Mohr

Mohr added that the bill did not have a fiscal note indicating it would cost the state anything to make the change. “If there was a fiscal note, based on the people I talked to, it would be a fair amount of savings for county boards from executing surety bonds on all those miniscule contracts,” he said.

The committee approved Senate Bill 561, which has gone to the full House. It was scheduled today to receive the first of three readings on the House floor, meaning the House could pass the bill by early next week.

More bills await action.

Other Senate bills that still could be passed by the House include:

  • Senate Bill 244: This bill would specify the conditions in which it would be unlawful to possess a firearm at school-sponsored functions. The bill would provide where in a locked vehicle a firearm may be placed. The Senate approved it February 6 on a vote of 30 to nothing. The House Education Committee than approved it and sent it to the House Judiciary Committee.
  • Senate Bill 284: This bill would try to increase the quality of the state’s workforce by increasing access to career education through the establishment of Advanced Career Education (ACE) programs and the West Virginia Invests Grant Program. After the Senate passed the bill, it went to the House Education Committee.
  • Senate Bill 335: This bill was described and being designed to protect an employee’s wages or salaries from being withheld or diverted for political activities without the express, written authorization of the employee. It would require employees to certify annually that they want union dues withheld from their paychecks. The teachers’ unions opposed it as anti-labor legislation. The Senate passed the bill on a vote of 20 to 13 and it has gone to the House Judiciary Committee, but this is the type of bill legislators now are reluctant to approve because it would further inflame teachers and school service workers during their strike.
  • Senate Bill 364: This bill would allow a parent or legal guardian of a homeschooled child to provide a signed statement in lieu of a driver eligibility certificate by the local school system’s attendance director or chief administrator affirming that the child is being educated in accordance with law and is making satisfactory academic progress to meet certain conditions to be eligible to obtain a permit or license for operation of a motor vehicle. The Senate passed it on a vote of 33 to nothing. The House was scheduled to vote on it today.
  • Senate Bill 415: This bill would permit voting on sports, if the U.S. Supreme Court would issue a ruling that would lift the ban on such gambling in most states. The Senate amended the bill to provide funding for the Public Employees Insurance Agency and address the PEIA funding issue that has been prominent in the teachers’ strike. The Senate passed the bill on a vote of 25 to nine on February 20. It was scheduled for a vote in the House today.
  • Senate Bill 465: This bill would clarify mandatory reporting requirements to report suspected child abuse or neglect, including child sexual abuse, immediately, and clarifying that notifying a person in charge, supervisor, or superior does not exempt one from their mandate to report. The Senate passed it Tuesday on a vote of 33 to nothing. It has gone to the House Judiciary Committee for further consideration.
  • Senate Bill 494: This bill would provide that members of the State Teachers Retirement System shall be considered absent from service as a teacher or non-teacher while serving as an officer with a statewide professional teaching association. That would affect the presidents of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and the West Virginia Education Association, although the current presidents would be exempted. The Senate passed the bill on February 20 on a vote of 19 to 14. It was sent to the House Pensions and Retirement Committee, but this is another anti-labor bill that legislators are reluctant to take up now for fear of exacerbating the teachers’ strike.
  • Senate Bill 507: This bill would establish magnet schools for high school students on the campuses of colleges and universities throughout West Virginia. The Senate passed it Tuesday on a vote of 32 to one. It has gone to the House Education Committee for further consideration.
  • Senate Bill 534: This bill would increase the penalty for using tobacco and tobacco-derived products on school property. The Senate passed it Wednesday on a vote of 32 to one. It has gone to the House Judiciary Committee.
  • Senate Bill 572: This bill would establish the Farm-To-School Grant Program. The Senate passed it Tuesday on a vote of 33 to nothing. The House Education Committee was scheduled to take it up this afternoon.
  • Senate Bill 573: This bill originally was written to provide that the instructional term for students would begin on the Tuesday after Labor Day and end the Friday before Memorial Day. However, it was rewritten so its main provision now would be to allow schools to cancel up to five days of instruction after statewide assessments have been given. The Senate passed it 34 to nothing Monday. It has gone to the House Education Committee.

By Jim Wallace

At this time in the legislative session, it’s too soon to say whether many bills not already sent to the governor will become law. But since Wednesday, it has been clear which bills are dead for this year. Wednesday was Crossover Day, when bills must pass out of their house of origin to stay alive. In other words, all bills originating in the House that did not get passed by the House by Wednesday and all bills originating in the Senate that did not get passed by the Senate by then can be considered dead for this year – barring rarely used measures to revive them.

Of course, some bills receive no serious consideration, not even getting included on an agenda for a committee meeting. But among the bills that could have affected public education and did get consideration from at least one committee, these died on Crossover Day:

  • Senate Bill 52: This bill would have provided that the maximum licensed school psychologist-pupil ratio is 1,500 pupils for each licensed school psychologist. It failed to get out of the Senate Education Committee.
  • Senate Bill 130: Called the Tim Tebow Act, this bill would have permitted home-school students and private school students who do not attend a school that is a member of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission to participate in extracurricular athletic or other extracurricular activities at a school that is a member of the commission. The Senate Education Committee approved the bill and sent it to the Senate Finance Committee, where it died.
  • Senate Bill 252: This bill would have required all high schools to provide an elective course on Hebrew Scriptures, Old Testament of the Bible or New Testament of the Bible. The Senate Education Committee spent much time discussing the bill before it was removed from the committee’s agenda and died.
  • Senate Bill 542: This bill would have required the creation of a four-year middle-high school pilot program as a part of the Upper Kanawha Valley Resiliency and Revitalization Program. The Senate Education Committee approved the bill, but it died in the Senate Finance Committee.
  • Senate Bill 599: This bill would have required county boards of education to provide free feminine hygiene products in grades six through 12. It was on the agenda of the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, but the committee’s meeting was cancelled after the Senate floor session went long. Thus, the bill failed to get passed by the Senate before Crossover Day and died. However, it has been converted to a resolution calling for legislators to study the matter during interim meetings leading up to their 2019 regular session. The committee approved that resolution today.
  • House Bill 2809: This bill would have provided an adjustment to the allocated state aid share to any county on account of, and in the amount of, payments or contributions in lieu of property tax distributed from the sheriff to the county board of education as a result of payment in lieu of tax agreements first entered into on or after July 1, 2016. The House Education Committee approved the bill and sent it to the House Finance Committee, where it died.
  • House Bill 4007: Like Senate Bill 130, this bill was called the Tim Tebow Act. It would have allowed home-schooled students to participate in secondary school extracurricular activities. It failed to get out of the House Education Committee.
  • House Bill 4220: This bill would have revoked the teaching certificate any teacher convicted of any offense that would require the teacher to register as a sex offender. The House Education Committee approved the bill and sent it to the House Judiciary Committee, where it died.
  • House Bill 4223: This bill would have developed a resource families could use to monitor and track deaf and hard-of-hearing children’s early language acquisition and expression, as well as developmental stages toward English literacy. The House Education Committee approved it February 22, but it died in the House Finance Committee.

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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.