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January 24, 2020 - Volume 40 Issue 3

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved a bill that would set the school year at no earlier than September first and no later than May 31, although school districts could seek waivers from the state school board to start earlier or go later.

House Bill 2433 would reverse flexibility in scheduling the legislature granted to county school boards in 2013 – flexibility that most school boards have taken advantage of. A former chairman of the committee, House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, urged his colleagues not to approve the bill, but he found himself on the short end of a 19-to-three vote to pass the bill and send it to the full House of Delegates. The bill is similar to one that received the committee’s approval but died later in the legislative process.

In addition to Espinosa’s strong expressions of opposition to House Bill 2433, the committee passed the bill after hearing from representatives of the Department of Education and the West Virginia School Board Association that the current flexibility is working well for most school districts.

“I think the counties have become very good at building their calendars.” – Sarah Stewart

“I think the counties have become very good at building their calendars,” Sarah Stewart, a legislative liaison for the Education Department, said. “It’s just been practice and time. They just got better at it.”

Currently, she said, 32 districts start their school years so they can end the first semester before Christmas. Of those 32, the latest start date was August 21, she said. A couple of counties start after September first, she said, and a fair number of counties end the school year in May.

WVSBA Executive Director Howard O’Cull told the committee the legislature gave school districts increased flexibility on their calendars as a result of the 2012 education audit, which found that West Virginia’s public education system suffered from too much central control.

“This worked out very well,” he said, adding that there is little interest among school districts to change the flexibility on the calendar. “It seems to me that latitude and flexibility is something that’s really been promoted by the legislature all the way back to 2013, and this seems to disturb that.”

The districts that did not change their calendars after receiving flexibility to do so generally had agricultural or tourism reasons for their scheduling, O’Cull said. The original restrictions limiting the school calendar to between early September and Memorial Day go back to the 1970s, when there was interest in encouraging participation at such activities as the West Virginia State Fair, he said.

“A lot of county boards like the idea of finishing the first semester before the end of the calendar year, before Christmas or the holiday break.” – Howard O’Cull

“A lot of county boards like the idea of finishing the first semester before the end of the calendar year, before Christmas or the holiday break,” O’Cull said. Requiring districts that want more flexibility in arranging their calendars to seek state school board waivers would add a layer to the process, he said.

The original version of the bill would have required school calendars to start no earlier than Labor Day and end no later than Memorial Day, but the committee amended it to make September first the earliest day and May 31st the latest day. The committee also amended the bill so it would take effect in the 2020-2021 school year. However, the committee rejected an amendment that would have reduced the required number of instructional days from 180 to 175.

Bill would address parents’ complaints.

The lead sponsor of the bill, Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, said parents had complained to him that school boards did not heed their requests about school calendars.

“Not only does it interfere with summer planning for families, but the current law also interferes with the participation in fairs, festivals and considerable number of tourism issues throughout the state,” Kelly said. “By setting a specific start and stop date, it was believed that there would be more consistency statewide. And parents could more easily plan. Teachers could more easily plan. And boards of education and superintendents could more easily plan.”

One of the few delegates to oppose the bill was Delegate Rolland Jennings, R-Preston, who said his county sometimes has so many school days cancelled by snow that it needs flexibility in the school calendar.

“It’s nothing at all for us to miss a week, two weeks, three weeks at a time,” he said. “I just like the idea of us having the flexibility. To say that the school board members don’t answer to the public, that’s not our problem. That is the voters’ problem to put people in there that do answer to them.”

Delegate Jim Butler, R-Mason, said he supported the bill but could end up voting against it later. “If I see evidence that getting their testing done before the end of the first semester is actually helping students perform, I may change my vote when it comes to the [House] floor,” he said.

Among those who spoke in favor of the bill was Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall. However, she said, her county superintendent is concerned about the bill’s restrictions because of amount of learning students might lose by being off so long during the summer and because some students might not get enough food during the summer when they are away from school.

“I’m going to support the bill because this bill allows our county the flexibility to come in and ask for a waiver to keep things the way they are, if that’s what works best for us.” – Delegate Lisa Zukoff

“I’m going to support the bill because this bill allows our county the flexibility to come in and ask for a waiver to keep things the way they are, if that’s what works best for us,” Zukoff said. “And I think that that’s reasonable.”

Delegate Cindy Lavender-Bowe, D-Greenbrier, also spoke in favor of the bill. “It’s been very important to the counties in my district, the 42nd District, home of the West Virginia State Fair,” she said. “We’ve seen those events negatively impacted since the changes that occurred.”

In addition, Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, who was a public school teacher for 35 years, supported the bill. He said the biggest factor on test performance is whether students are taught by qualified teachers, but West Virginia has a shortage of qualified teachers.

“Quality of education versus quantity will always in my mind as a teacher being a determining factor in how well these kids do on tests,” Evans said. The only test he said he trusts is the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which West Virginia does well on it.

However, Espinosa disputed Evans on that last point. He said West Virginia doesn’t really stack up well on NAEP scores. He made these points:

  • Three out of four West Virginia eighth graders are not proficient in math based on NAEP scores.
  • West Virginia’s eighth grade reading proficiency ranks 45th in the country based on NAEP scores.
  • The fourth grade math proficiency is just 29.6 percent.
  • The eighth grade math proficiency is just 24.1 percent.
  • The fourth grade reading proficiency is 30.3 percent.
  • The eighth grade reading proficiency is 25.3 percent.
  • West Virginia ranks 51st in SAT scores.

“No matter how you slice this, it’s basically removing flexibility that school districts have today,” Espinosa said. “You’re basically going to require school districts to ask for a waiver, whereas today, they can make their calendar that suits the needs of their constituents and their students in their given county. I’m certainly concerned that this is a big step backwards in the flexibility that we granted our school districts just a few short years ago.”

Although he acknowledged that quantity in school days doesn’t necessarily mean quality, he said he just didn’t see how restricting school districts on setting their calendars would help improve student performance.

However, Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said he supported the bill because he couldn’t recall a time when the state school board rejected a school district’s waiver request. “I think it still preserves flexibility,” he said.

The House Education Committee was the only committee House Bill 2433 was referred to, so it now can go to the full House of Delegates for consideration.

By Jim Wallace

Senate Democrats told their Republican counterparts this week that they need more assurances that school districts and county governments would not be hurt by phasing out West Virginia’s tax on manufacturing inventory and equipment. Legislative leaders have made the elimination of that tax one of their top priorities this year.

To make that happen, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and six other Senate Republicans have proposed Senate Joint Resolution 8, which would put the so-called Manufacturing Growth Amendment on the state ballot. Getting it on the ballot would require two-third majorities in both the Senate and the House of Delegates. The Senate has 20 Republicans and 14 Democrats, so at least three of the Democrats would need to join the Republicans to pass the resolution.

Legislators have been wanted to get rid of the tax for years to make West Virginia more competitive with other states that do not have similar taxes. Carmichael and other legislative leaders have called it a “job-killing tax” and say natural growth in state revenues could make up the estimated $100 million in tax revenues that would be eliminated.

However, most of the tax’s revenues go to county school districts followed by county governments, so Senate Democrats said this week they need more concrete assurances that schools and counties would not suffer from the elimination of the tax.

“We should be able to make a decision based on the facts, not hyperbole.” – Sen. Mike Romano

“There should be a fiscal note attached to this,” Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said. “We should be able to make a decision based on the facts, not hyperbole.”

In response, Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, urged senators to let the resolution proceed, so details about replacing the revenue could be worked out in his committee, as well as the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“That means every member of this body will have access and participation during that process and the ability to amend and work through,” he said. “I have every intention of making sure this entire body participates on the process.”

Blair argued that removing the property tax on manufacturing inventory and equipment would generate greater investment in West Virginia. In turn, he said, such manufacturing growth would help the state weather the cyclical nature of severance taxes on which the state has long relied.

Sen. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, agreed that the tax is “regressive and problematic,” but he said school districts and county governments depend on the revenue. He is a former member of the Logan County Board of Education.

“If you want our help on this side of the aisle, don’t come to me with a growth story that we’re going to make up this money by growth because in southern West Virginia that does not resonate,” Hardesty said. His part of the state has been hit hard by the decline of the coal industry.

“I’m all for manufacturing, but do not come to me and say, ‘Hey, we’ll make it up with growth,” he said. “That can’t be the solution. There’s got to be something else tangible.”

Hardesty suggested that the state might face more budget troubles if severance tax collections in January, February and March come in lower than projected. He noted that he once lobbied proudly for the coal industry, but the price of metallurgical coal has declined about 30 percent and is expected to recover only slightly.

“We have to find real solutions for real problems,” Hardesty said. I think we stand ready to work with you, but it’s got to be real. It can’t be on paper. It can’t be jacking up revenue estimates.”

Coal revenues from southern West Virginia financed much growth throughout West Virginia, but now the southern counties need help, he said.

Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, said the state should have done more to broaden West Virginia’s economy when the state was “flush with coal money.” But he argued that is good reason now to remove the inventory and equipment tax.

“We can no longer be a one-trick pony in West Virginia.” – Sen. Eric Tarr

“We can no longer be a one-trick pony in West Virginia,” Tarr said. West Virginians’ productivity must increase and the state must be competitive not just on a national level but on a global level. That means doing what other states are doing to improve their gross domestic product.

“The biggest, most difficult part of this is probably more political than fiscal, and we do need to get past that political challenge,” Tarr said. “The heart of this effort is around helping all West Virginians.”

Sen. Doug Facemire, R-Braxton, argued that West Virginia once had a more diversified economy with strong factories in the steel, glassmaking, hardwood flooring and other industries and it could become more diversified in the future.

“We need to come up with a real solution to what our problem is,” he said. “But you know, it doesn’t do us any good to just jump out here and do something to say that we’ve done something. We’ve got to sit down and actually figure out what we can do to stimulate manufacturing.”

“The only way that’s going to happen is to quit being Democrats and Republicans and be West Virginians.” I’m committed to work to make it happen.

In addition to the proposed amendment to eliminate the manufacturing inventory and equipment tax, the Senate is considering Senate Joint Resolution 9, which is sponsored by Blair and two other Republicans. It would put on the ballot a proposed amendment to lower property taxes on vehicles and other tangible personal property.

By Jim Wallace

A proposed constitutional amendment to give the legislature more control over public education stalled this week in the House of Delegates. House Joint Resolution 102 passed in the House Judiciary Committee last Friday. It then reached the second of three required readings before the full House before leaders pulled it off the House’s active calendar without explanation.

If voters would approve the proposed constitutional amendment, the legislature would gain rulemaking oversight of the state board of education. Among other provisions, the resolution states: “In the performance of its supervisory duties, the West Virginia Board of Education may promulgate rules which shall be submitted to the Legislature for its review and approval, amendment or, rejection, in whole or in part, in the manner prescribed by general law.” That’s not the way the system works now because of the way the West Virginia Constitution provides for handling public education policy.

Decades ago, the legislature amended the Administrative Procedures Act to include a provision requiring the state school board’s rules to be approved by the legislature. Later that year, the Secretary of State’s Office cited the statute when it rejected a rule the board attempted to file. The school board then sought a writ of mandamus to force the secretary to file the rule. The West Virginia Supreme Court granted the writ and held that the West Virginia Constitution prohibits the legislature from inhibiting the state board’s rulemaking authority.

The current process is that rules regarding public education and higher education go before the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability (LOCEA). For higher education, the legislature can change proposed rules, but for public education, LOCEA may only make recommendations to the board, and the legislature does not vote on the rules. The proposed constitutional amendment would require the state board to go through the same rulemaking process through the legislature as other agencies do.

Members of the House Judiciary Committee were divided over the resolution.

“While I understand the impetus behind this amendment, I think that we have existed for many years since 1958 with this structure giving executive authority to the state school board. I think it is really important that we have a check, and this is a check that was built into our Constitution.” – Delegate Barbara Fleischauer

“While I understand the impetus behind this amendment, I think that we have existed for many years since 1958 with this structure giving executive authority to the state school board,” Delegate Barbara Fleischauer, D-Monongalia, said. “I think it is really important that we have a check, and this is a check that was built into our Constitution. Obviously, one of the reasons our state was established was so that we would have free schools.”

That provision for free public schools was in West Virginia’s first Constitution, which made the state different from Virginia, she said.

“I think this provision has worked well,” Fleischauer said. “I can understand that some people in the legislature might want to exercise more control, but I think the way the Constitution is structured right now, it provides checks and balances that I don’t think should be disturbed.”

“Every other executive branch has to come back to this legislature when they do the rules. That gives the people the final say over those rules.” – Delegate Tom Bibby

Delegate Tom Bibby, R-Berkeley, said he sees the issue differently from Fleischauer. “This does provide a check in our system of checks and balances,” he said of the proposed amendment. “Every other executive branch has to come back to this legislature when they do the rules. That gives the people the final say over those rules.”

Delegate Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, also spoke in favor the resolution. He is co-chairman of the Legislative Rule-Making Review Committee and said the most important thing the committee does is to read public comments.

“We are able to hold the agency accountable,” Foster said, but LOCEA is not able to do that.

However, Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, who had kept an open mind on the subject, said he had decided to oppose the resolution. “We do have oversight because a statute would override a rule,” he said. “I don’t want to see us overstep our bounds and be micromanaging. We already have the power to change a lot of the decisions made by our public schools.”

Several members voted against the resolution when the House Judiciary Committee voted to approve it and send it to the full House of Delegates.

By Jim Wallace

The Department of Education is considering asking legislators for help in keeping school districts in line.

“We may come back and ask you for support in terms of local school district accountability,” Supt. Steve Paine told members of the Senate Finance Committee at a budget hearing this week.

Some districts might not be taking care of all their responsibilities since the elimination of the Office of Education Performance Audits a few years ago, he indicated.

“I preach to districts that increased flexibility brings robust responsibility and accountability,” Paine said. “I think the flexibility part is getting noticed quite nicely. I’m not so sure about the responsibility and accountability.”

The Education Department has put together an accountability policy to take to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability, he said.

“We think we’ve put some measures in there that will hold school boards, superintendents, principals, teaching faculty and school improvement councils accountable and assure transparency of performance results. But I don’t want to leave that to chance.” – Supt. Steve Paine

“We think we’ve put some measures in there that will hold school boards, superintendents, principals, teaching faculty and school improvement councils accountable and assure transparency of performance results,” Paine said. “But I don’t want to leave that to chance.”

Other than those comments, the budget presentation Paine and other Education Department officials gave to the Senate Finance Committee was about the same as those presented earlier in the month to the House Finance Committee and the House Education Committee.

 

By Jim Wallace

The Senate on Thursday narrowly defeated a bill that would have required the Legislative Auditor’s Office to conduct a performance audit of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission. With one senator absent, 16 senators voted for Senate Bill 192 while 17 voted against it.

Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, led the opposition to the bill. He said he spent 41 years as a referee at football games governed by the SSAC, which did a good job. He attributed the bill’s appearance to the SSAC’s decision to split high schools into four classes for basketball as a pilot project to see if it would be more equitable than the current basketball classification system. The SSAC receives no state funds, except it for participation in the Public Employees Retirement System, he said.

“Nothing will get people fired up any faster than messing with their football team, their basketball team, or whatever team it may be.” – Sen. Charles Clements

“They have done a good job in my opinion of trying to regulate the athletics in this state,” Clements said. “Nothing will get people fired up any faster than messing with their football team, their basketball team, or whatever team it may be.”

The SSAC’s funds are considered to be quasi-public, so it already is subject to audit by the state Tax Department, he said.

“I don’t want this to give the appearance that the Senate is operating in a punitive manner because we as people, as senators, are upset with the classification system that a lot of people don’t seem to like,” Clements said.

Sen. Bill Ihlenfeld, D-Ohio, also spoke against the bill. He said the legislative auditor already has enough to do and the state’s resources are already stretched.

“I’m afraid if we start looking at things like this, we’re going to take our eye off the ball,” he said. “We’re going to use those resources that we need so desperately…and start looking at things that don’t need very much attention.”

Ihlenfeld said he could guarantee an audit of the SSAC would not show any waste of taxpayer resources because no taxpayer resources go to the commission. The SSAC gets most of its money from gate receipts at state basketball and football tournaments.

“I think it sets a dangerous precedent,” he said. “This is a private entity that is not taxpayer funded.”

Ihlenfeld added, “I just think we should keep our nose out of youth sports.”

Senate Bill 192’s lone sponsor, Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, conceded that the reclassification of basketball teams prompted the bill.

“You’re right. They don’t receive state moneys  What they do though is they use every public student athlete as an asset to generate revenue.” – Sen. Eric Tarr

“You’re right,” he said. “They don’t receive state moneys. What they do though is they use every public student athlete as an asset to generate revenue.”

Tarr said the audit would provide transparency.

However, Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, pointed out that legislators could request an audit of the SSAC at any time without passage of the bill. Tarr said lawyers he spoke with weren’t sure about that.

But Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said, “The complaints that have been made have been superficial at best, and I urge a no vote on this bill.

Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker said SSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan told her he would have no problem going through an audit because he has nothing to hide. She added that a performance audit would be different from the financial audits the SSAC already faces from the Tax Department.

“I believe it is a good bill,” she said. “I think it just ensures and gives everyone confidence that they are fulfilling their mission.”

The defeat of the bill this week came after the Senate Education Committee spent about two hours debating the bill last week.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate is trying again this year to get the House of Delegates to accept legislation on faith-based drug awareness electives in schools similar to a bill the Senate passed last year. The Senate also has passed a bill to require the state school board to create a home economics – or family and consumer sciences – course.

Meanwhile the House is working on bills to require the teaching of cursive writing in elementary schools and personal finance in high schools.

This year, the drug awareness legislation is Senate Bill 42, which the Senate approved on Monday on a vote of 34 to zero. That was slightly better than the 33-to-one vote last year’s bill received. Last year’s bill stalled in the House Education Committee.

“This bill allows county boards to allow faith-based electives for drug awareness in classrooms in their comprehensive drug awareness and prevention programs and requires the state board to promulgate a rule on how the faith-based electives can be offered in a way that is consistent with constitutional requirements.” – Sen. Patricia Rucker

“This bill allows county boards to allow faith-based electives for drug awareness in classrooms in their comprehensive drug awareness and prevention programs and requires the state board to promulgate a rule on how the faith-based electives can be offered in a way that is consistent with constitutional requirements,” Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker told her colleagues Monday just before the Senate passed the bill.

Sen. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, and Sen. Sue Cline, R-Wyoming, are the sponsors of Senate Bill 42. It is now in the hands of the House of Delegates.

Maynard said last year he got the idea for the legislation from the director of Teen Challenge, a Christian faith-based substance abuse recovery program in Mercer County, who said he was unable to offer guidance to public school students because of state law.

The other bill passed by the Senate is Senate Bill 297, which would require the state school board to create a home economics course for students in secondary schools. However, no school would be required to offer the course.

The Senate voted 33 to zero Thursday to approve the bill. It also has gone to the House for further consideration.

In the House, the Education Committee approved House Bill 4089, which would require cursive writing to be taught in grades three through five. The committee learned it’s already required in grades two through four, so the effect of the bill would be to extend it to grade five.

Prior to 2016, it was up to individual teachers whether to teach cursive writing, and many had discontinued it. Thus, some students got through elementary school without learning that skill.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Delegate Jeff Campbell, D-Greenbrier said. “As a sixth grade teacher, there are times when I have students to sign certain forms for permission slips and things like that, and they will always print. They will never use cursive. They don’t know cursive.”

But Delegate Caleb Hanna, R-Webster, said he opposed the bill. As a 2018 high school graduate, he said, he was among the students in the gap when cursive writing was not taught.

“Cursive just isn’t that necessary anymore.” – Delegate Caleb Hanna

“Cursive just isn’t that necessary anymore,” Hanna said. “Without learning cursive, look at where we’re sitting now. So, I think it just may not be as necessary as we put it out to be.”

But Hanna was in the minority when the committee approved House Bill 4089 on a voice vote.

If the bill would become law, it would be called the Gertrude Martin Act, named after the third grade teacher Delegate Rodney Pyles had at Wiles Hill Elementary School in the 1950s. Pyles, D-Monongalia, is the lead sponsor of the bill.

House Bill 4089 was scheduled to receive the first of three required readings on the House floor today, so the House could pass it as early as Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the House Education Committee has delayed consideration of House Bill 2775, which would have each student complete a half-credit course of study in personal finance as a requirement for high school graduation. Committee members could not reach agreement on the bill after hearing from a state official.

Joey Wiseman, executive director of the Education Department’s Office of Middle and Secondary Learning, told the committee that high schools already are required to offer courses in economics as electives, and financial algebra is an option that can be used as a math credit. Further, he said, personal finance standards are embedded in the current civics course, which is offered in all school districts.

If the legislature wants to go forward with the bill, Wiseman said, it should be careful on how it defines personal finance. Also, he said, several districts don’t do courses for just half a credit, so adding it as a requirement would change graduation credit requirements.

“More than likely with it being a half-credit, we would pull the personal finance standards from civics, and then we would have to rework the civic course as well as this course,” Wiseman said. “But I’m not sure how we’re defining personal finance, so that’s another thing we need a little more direction on.”

“We need to be careful not to leave it up to the school boards. If we leave it up to the counties, they could create 55 different versions.” – Joey Wiseman

Further, he said, “We need to be careful not to leave it up to the school boards. If we leave it up to the counties, they could create 55 different versions.”

Because so many issues with the bill were unresolved, the committee laid the bill over to a future meeting.

 

By Jim Wallace

The Senate Education Committee has approved a bill that would require the state school board to come up with a plan by September 1 on how to address transportation personnel shortages in large, rural school districts.

As amended in the committee, Senate Bill 241 would provide districts with more funding under Step 2 of the School Aid Formula. Amy Willard, director of school finance for the Education Department, said the problem now with the formula is that districts lose funding for personnel when they lose enrollment, but their bus routes still require just as many drivers as before.

Asked whether the department would have enough time to come up with a plan by September first, she said that shouldn’t be a problem. “We’ve already internally explored some options of different ways that we could make changes to the calculation,” she said.

The number of districts that would get the added funding would depend on how the state would determine how large a county is, Willard said. The department has been doing preliminary estimates by considering counties with more than 600 square miles, she said. Eight counties would meet that threshold, she said.

Senate Bill 241 has gone to the full Senate.

By Jim Wallace

A new legislative committee, the Senate Select Committee on Children and Families, has approved a bill aimed at deterring student suicide attempts.

Senate Bill 230 would require the state board of education to provide for the routine education of all professional educators, including principals and administrators, as well as service personnel having direct contact with students, on warning signs and resources to assist in suicide prevention.

The bill states that the legislature recognizes West Virginia has one of the highest rates of suicide in the nation and that suicide rates nationwide among adolescents and young adults are rising. It also states the risk of suicide among West Virginia students might be increased because of “disrupted families, poverty, and the opioid crises.”

The bill would require the state school board to “provide for the routine education of all professional educators, including principals and administrators, and those service personnel having direct contact with students on warning signs and resources to assist in suicide prevention under guidelines established by the state board. The education may be accomplished through self-review of suicide prevention materials and resources approved by the state board.”

The board would have to do that by September 1 this year and then again in each subsequent year.

Another provision of the bill states: “On or before September 1, 2020, and each year thereafter, a public middle and high school administrator shall disseminate and provide opportunities to discuss suicide prevention awareness information to all middle and high school students. The information may be obtained from the Bureau for Behavior Health and Health Facilities or from a commercially developed suicide prevention training program approved by the State Board of Education in consultation with the bureau to assure the accuracy and appropriateness of the information.”

The state had a similar law in the Jason Flatt Act of 2012, but Mary Catherine Tuckwiller, staff attorney in the Education Department’s Office of Legal Services, said it was repealed in 2018 when the legislature eliminated the Center for Professional Development. Thus, she said, there is no such statute in the state now, but the Education Department does have toolkits available for schools that were developed when the former law was in effect.

“We have specialists in school counseling who meet with counselors and provide toolkits and provide information,” Tuckwiller said. “We have superintendent updates that go out every week that provide this type of information.”

The bill has gone to the Senate Education Committee for further consideration.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee has approved a bill that started out as requiring county school boards to provide free feminine hygiene products to students in grade six through 12. But it came out of the committee in much different form.

The amended version of House Bill 2464 would allow, but not require, county school boards to accept and solicit donations of a wide range of personal hygiene products from private citizens or businesses for distribution to all students.

The original impetus of the bill was concern that some girls might not attend school if they did not have feminine hygiene products when they need them. It was pointed out that nothing prevents school districts from providing students with hygiene products now, and some already do that.

“I want to give it a chance to at least give the message that the legislature is interested in moving forward with something like this,” House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said. “Making it permissive – it already is permissive – but we’re telling them, start doing that if you can.”

The bill was sent to the House Finance Committee, but that reference might be dropped because it involves no state funding.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate Education Committee this week approved a bill to require the Department of Education to make available to students information to help them make decisions on how to further their educations after high school.

Senate Bill 303 is called the Students’ Right to Know Act. It would require the department to compile and distribute specific types of information, including:

  • The most in-demand jobs in the state, including starting salary and education level required for those jobs;
  • The average cost for all major colleges and vocational schools in the state;
  • The average monthly student loan payment for individuals who attend all major colleges and vocational schools in the state;
  • The average three-year student loan default rate for all major colleges and vocational schools in the state;
  • The average graduation rate for all major colleges and vocational schools in the state;
  • The completion rates for apprenticeship programs, high school credential programs, career and technical education programs, and military first-term enlistments.
  • The share of college graduates working in an occupation that does not require a college degree for each major;

•The average starting salary for individuals graduating from a major college; and•The average starting salary for individuals graduating from a vocational school in the state.

“I know that the intent of this bill is to provide information to students to help them make decisions regarding their future plans.” – Sen. Patricia Rucker

“I know that the intent of this bill is to provide information to students to help them make decisions regarding their future plans,” Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said. “I believe it’s purposely broad.”

But she added that the information is readily available through Higher Education Policy Commission, Workforce West Virginia and the Department of Commerce. She said the intent is not to add reporting requirements for any higher education institutions.

However, Sen. Sue Cline R-Wyoming, was concerned the original language of the bill did not make it clear that students need to be made aware of all post-high school options, including not just four-year degrees but also two-year community and technical college degrees and apprenticeship programs. She offered an amendment to make that clear in the statement of the bill’s purpose.

Sarah Stewart of the Education Department said that would not be a problem. She said the department would make the information available on the department’s website and also provide it to school counselors, superintendents and principals.

Senate Bill 303 has gone to the full Senate for further action. It was scheduled for the second of three required readings on the Senate floor today, meaning it could pass as early as Monday and then go to the House of Delegates.

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.