Legislative News

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McKinley Architects & Engineers

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The Thrasher Group

March 2, 2020 - Volume 40 Issue 8

Editor’s Note: Also refer to Opinion – “West Virginia: A Darn Good State For The Shape We Are In” by Greenbrier Almond, MD, member of the Upshur County Board of Education

By Jim Wallace

When John Deskins began his presentation to the West Virginia School Board Association’s Winter Conference, he suggested that maybe the school board members and superintendents in attendance should have had alcoholic drinks with their dinners that evening. That’s because his findings on the demographic trends facing West Virginia’s public schools are quite sobering.

Deskins is the director of the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at West Virginia University. After explaining how the downturn in the energy sector and a lack of diversification in West Virginia’s economy has led to population in most of the state’s counties, he showed how the outlook is not bright for most school districts.

Nationally, the high school population is up about 3 percent over the past 20 years, Deskins said, but the younger population of kids ages three to 13 is about flat. “In West Virginia, the numbers have been in decline,” he said. “We’ve lost 8 percent of our young population and 13 percent roughly of our high school-age population. So you can see a pretty good contrast…between the West Virginia numbers and the national numbers.”

High school enrollment in West Virginia declined about 5 percent from 2012 to 2019, and graduation was down about 2 percent over that period, he said.

From 2010 to 2018, only nine counties had population growth with Berkeley and Monongalia counties as the two standouts. “They were growing at a healthy pace,” Deskins said. “Jefferson’s also growing. A few other counties were growing by a smaller margin, but overall, we have about 45 counties that have lost population overall over the past decade roughly.”

“The population losses have been disproportionate among the youth. We’ve lost more young people than we have lost people overall. Our state’s getting older.” – John Deskins

Meanwhile, the youth population declined in all but Berkeley and Monongalia counties, he said. “The population losses have been disproportionate among the youth,” Deskins said. “We’ve lost more young people than we have lost people overall. Our state’s getting older.”

Overall through the period, the cumulative population loss was 2.6 percent, but in the ages of zero to 19, it was down almost 7 percent, he said. “The percentage loss among the youth is more than double that of the overall population,” Deskins said. “Only two counties, Mon and Berkeley, have actually seen youth population growth over this period.”

Only five West Virginia counties had an increase in student enrollment from 2010 to 2018. “The vast majority of counties have suffered losses,” Deskins said. “The overall loss is 5.8 percent.”

The state’s total loss in student enrollment from 2010 to 2018 was 16,375 students. “Kanawha has lost by far the largest number of students,” Deskins said. “Kanawha has lost about 2,800 students overall over the period. Losses in Kanawha are far, far above the second county there, Wood. We only have a handful of counties that have performed well – Berkeley and Mon again being the big leaders in terms of growth.”

“Our state is losing people because of the fact the number of deaths exceeds the number of births.” – John Deskins

Deskins explained there are two components of population change. One is natural population change, which is the number of births compared to the number of deaths. “Our state is losing people because of the fact the number of deaths exceeds the number of births,” he said. In 2018, West Virginia had 4,541 more deaths than births.

The other component is net migration, which is the number of people moving in versus the number moving out. In 2018, 6,643 more people moved out of West Virginia than moved in, although that was an improvement over 2017. “The past few years, we’ve lost people due to natural decline and due to negative outmigration,” Deskins said.

Large natural population decline occurred in 13 counties. Only Monongalia, Berkeley and Jefferson counties had births exceed deaths.

Ten counties had significantly more people move into them than move out from 2014 to 2018, while 20 had more outmigration with Kanawha County experiencing the highest amount of outmigration. Other counties experienced just a small amount of outmigration.

Deskins said his bureau is forecasting the youth population of ages zero to 19 will continue a steady decline. Women of child-bearing age, from 15 through 49, also are projected to decline, he said, but the population of people ages 65 and above is projected to increase steadily.

Student enrollment for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade is projected to fall from about 282,000 in 2010 to about 242,000 in 2040, Deskins said. Currently, it is about halfway in between, he said, but that is based only on natural population trends, and a change in net migration could affect that projection.

“The numbers could be better if we start to see more positive migration trends,” Deskins said. “Overall, we expect losses of about 13,000 more students.”

That’s measured from 2018 to 2025. “Kanawha is the biggest leader in those losses,” he said, while only Berkeley, Monongalia and Jefferson counties are expected to see growth in enrollment.

By Jim Wallace

One of Senate leaders’ top priorities during this session of the West Virginia Legislature – the elimination of property taxes on manufacturing inventory and equipment and on vehicles – died last week. Although the Senate voted 18 to 16 in favor of a resolution for a constitutional amendment to allow the tax cuts to happen, the vote fell far short of the two-thirds majority needed.

That vote came one day after the Senate voted 17 to 16 to approve Senate Bill 837 to implement the tax reductions and partially fill the revenue gap with increased sales and tobacco taxes. Normally, that would have been enough to keep a legislative proposal alive, but because the property taxes are enshrined in the West Virginia Constitution, the state’s voters must approve a constitutional amendment to allow the tax cuts to take effect. That would require two-thirds majorities of both the Senate and the House of Delegates to approve Senate Joint Resolution 9 to put that amendment on the November ballot, but Monday’s vote on Senate Bill 837 indicated it would be unlikely, as Tuesday’s vote on the resolution confirmed after senators spent two hours debating it.

“I believe my county will be severely impaired by the passage of this resolution,” Sen. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, said during the debate. “I just don’t see any way of avoiding that.”

Sen. Richard Lindsay, D-Kanawha, also opposed the resolution. “What was discussed is a tax benefit for big business on the backs of West Virginians,” he said.

“We have to trust the people of West Virginia.” – Sen. Charles Trump

But Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, urged his Senate colleagues to vote to give West Virginia voters a choice. “We have to trust the people of West Virginia,” he said.

Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, also urged support for the resolution. “This is a bill to help families in West Virginia,” he said. “It’s also a bill to bring jobs to West Virginia.”

The no votes on both Senate Joint Resolution 9 and Senate Bill 837 came from all 14 Senate Democrats, as well as Sen. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, and Sen. John Pitsenbarger, R-Nicholas. Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, was absent from Monday’s vote on Senate Bill 837 but voted for the resolution today. The resolution would have needed approval from 23 of the Senate’s 34 members. In the 100-member House, 67 votes would be needed, so if all the 58 Republicans would vote for the resolution, at least nine more votes would have to come from the rest of the members, who include 41 Democrats and one independent, who is a former Republican.

The Senate spent two hours debating Senate Bill 837 before approving it.

“I believe this legislation is going to pass,” Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said while urging his colleagues to pass Senate Bill 837. “And my biggest fear is it’s going to be denied the people of West Virginia by the rejection of SJR 9, which does nothing less than give the people the opportunity to see what we put in front of them.”

About two-thirds of the property tax revenues go to county school districts, and the rest goes to county governments and municipalities, so many county and other local officials have expressed grave concerns about the Senate leaders’ plans. The tax cuts would amount to about $300 million in revenues, but the proposed tax increases were estimated to make up only about two-thirds of that. That was one of the reasons some senators opposed Senate Bill 837. Even though proponents contend elimination of the manufacturing inventory and equipment tax would attract business to the state, another argument against it is that corporations based outside West Virginia would benefit while West Virginia residents would bear the burden of higher sales and tobacco taxes.

County government officials were especially concerned the proposed tax changes would make counties too dependent on state government and could cost them much-needed revenue. It was argued that the School Aid Formula would ensure that school districts would get the money they needed, but many public education officials still were worried the state might not give them enough.

Opponents express concern.

“If we had the money, I’d be all for this,” Sen. Paul Hardesty, D-Logan, said. “But what does it do for the average West Virginian? Little to nothing. We’re going to take money out of the right pocket and transfer it to the left pocket, but at the end of that process, there’s not going to be as much money.”

“It’s clear you’re raising taxes on individuals to pay for a tax break for businesses…. What we’re lacking is a trained workforce, a healthy population and flat land.” – Sen. Mike Romano

Likewise, Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said to Senate leaders, “It’s clear you’re raising taxes on individuals to pay for a tax break for businesses.” He said previous tax cuts designed to make West Virginia more competitive – many of them made when Democrats controlled the legislature – had done little to attract more businesses to the state. “What we’re lacking is a trained workforce, a healthy population and flat land,” he said.

Noting that many county officials were observing from Senate galleries, Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said, “What they’re concerned about is whether they can provide basic funding for law enforcement, public safety and public transportation.”

On the other side, Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, argued, “Cutting taxes is going to help business growth in West Virginia.”

And Trump said in support of the bill, “I’m for the people. I’m for business growth. I’m for tax relief.”

Some senators had suggested devoting more study to the property tax issues in the months between regular legislative sessions. Senate leaders chose not to take that option, but a resolution to do that could yet emerge to make its one of the issues legislators could study before next year’s regular session, which will begin in February.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate could pass as early as today House Bill 3127, which would allow homeschooled students to play in public school sports. Meanwhile, a similar bill, Senate Bill 131, has gone nowhere in the House of Delegates. The bill difference between the bills is that House Bill 3127 applies only to homeschooled students, while Senate Bill 131 also would allow students attending private and religious schools that are not members of the Secondary School Activities Commission to participate in public school sports.

Such bills traditionally have been called Tim Tebow bills in honor of a former home-schooled student who played in public school sports before going on to become a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback at the University of Florida and help his team win two national championships. Supporters of the legislation have tried several times in the past to get similar bills passed. A Tebow bill got through the legislature in 2017 only to be vetoed by Gov. Jim Justice, who coaches girls’ basketball at a public school.

This time, House Bill 3127 was scheduled for third reading and a vote in the Senate today. The House approved it last Monday on a vote of 61 to 38 with Republicans and Democrats split on both sides.

Before the vote, House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said homeschooled students would have to agree to comply with all rules of the SSAC and their home county school boards’ rules. He said the bill also provides that if a homeschooled student would leave an SSAC member school during the school year, that student would face the same transfer protocol during that year as any other student.

Ellington said the SSAC has agreed to that provision, which would mean that the public school student who would switch to homeschooling during a school year would have to sit out a year before participating in SSAC sports again.

“That has been one of the concerns the SSAC has had for kids that were failing out, claiming to be homeschooled, meeting the requirements and going back in somewhere else.” – Delegate Joe Ellington

“That has been one of the concerns the SSAC has had for kids that were failing out, claiming to be homeschooled, meeting the requirements and going back in somewhere else,” he said. “This strengthens that.”

The bill would provide that a homeschooled student must enroll in just one virtual school course through the student’s home county school system or through the Department of Education to be eligible to participate in SSAC sports. That would be a reduction from the current requirement for such a student to take at least four virtual courses.

Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, joined Ellington in urging his colleagues to support the bill. He called it a win-win proposal because homeschooling is the only option for some students, but they deserve the right to play sports.

“They are learning life lessons,” Cowles said. “Sportsmanship, leadership, disappointment, victory, teamwork, fellowship, friendship, discipline – that’s what we are talking about. With these additional students, homeschool, private school whatever it may be, I think our communities and state will be winners across the board.”

Two weeks before the House approved House Bill 3127, the Senate passed Senate Bill 131 on a vote of 24 to nine. But that bill has stalled in the House Education Committee as the House chose to work instead on its own bill with narrower effects.

By Jim Wallace

A bill that had little trouble getting through the House of Delegates ran into some opposition before it received the approval of a closely divided Senate Education Committee.

House Bill 4398 would require the teaching of certain historical documents in public, private and parochial schools in West Virginia. Certain members of the committee considered that requirement an example of unnecessary micromanagement, while others objected to another provision on teaching about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that attracted no attention in the House.

The bill would require instruction on the original texts of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States and its amendments, the Bill of Rights, the Federalist Papers, the Constitution of West Virginia, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the Mayflower Compact. When asked if schools would be prepared to incorporate those documents into curriculum by July 1, 2020, when the bill would go into effect, Joey Wiseman, executive director of the Education Department’s Office of Middle and Secondary Learning, said they’re already required.

“When we revised the social studies standards two years ago, we made sure all those things are in there,” he said.

“So it’s something you’re already doing and now we’re doing legislation for you to do it?” – Sen. John Unger

That prompted Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, to ask, “So it’s something you’re already doing and now we’re doing legislation for you to do it?”

“For the social studies portion, it’s already in place,” Wiseman replied. “All those items that are listed are already in the standards. I think they’re mentioned 57 different times throughout the standards for K-12.”

“So the part I guess we’re really authorizing is the sexually transmitted disease part?” Unger asked. “Is that what this bill is about? I mean, if the social studies part is already there --.”

“Right,” Wiseman said. “I think they added advance notice to parents for that other section.”

“So do you need this bill?” Unger asked.

“The social studies aspect – it’s already in place,” Wiseman said. “It just codifies it to make sure those things are actually covered to make sure, if standards are changed in the future or something, they would be in there.”

That didn’t satisfy Unger’s interest in why the bill is needed.

Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, told him why she put it on the committee’s agenda. “I think that this is a really good bill, and I think that it is important to codify that these things would be included in our social studies and civics education,” she said.

“We codify everything,” Unger complained. “This is another example where we’re already doing it. It looks like a solution looking for a problem. I just don’t understand why we spend legislative time like this authorizing things that are already being done.”

STD section stirs other concerns.

One of the Senate’s physicians, Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, focused on the small section of the bill that would require advanced notice to be given to a parent or guardian of a child who is to receive instruction in the prevention, transmission and spread of sexually transmitted diseases. He wanted to know what is meant by advanced notice.

“Do we have to send a piece of paper home and let the parents sign it, bring it back and say now we’re able to teach people about these things that are obviously important public health issues?” he asked.

Hank Hager, staff attorney for the committee, said, “It doesn’t really specify exactly into detail what type of advanced notice is required. It just adds to existing language that says an opportunity shall be afforded to the parent.”

“It just seems to me it would make it harder to somehow deliver the education that’s much needed. STD is very important information to know about.” – Sen. Ron Stollings

Stollings didn’t like that. “It just seems to me it would make it harder to somehow deliver the education that’s much needed,” he said. “STD is very important information to know about, as well as all these other things found here. I just don’t understand why you have to have advanced notice. That seems to make it more difficult.”

Mary Catherine Tuckwiller, an attorney at Department of Education, gave him her interpretation of the bill’s language. “As I read the bill, the advanced notice places a requirement on the school and/or the county to notify parents in advance of what the intended curriculum is, so that the parents have the opportunity to review it,” she said. “If they are interested in having their child be exempt from that, they may do so. We would probably recommend that that be done at the beginning of the school year as part of information on the total curriculum. That way, the parent would have sufficient time. Certainly, we couldn’t do it the day before. This would be equivalent to a parent selecting to exclude their child from reading a certain literary text.”

To that, Stollings responded, “So a parent could exempt their child from learning about STDs. It could exempt them from learning how to do CPR.”

But Tuckwiller said, “I believe that the provision is written exclusively to the paragraph that addresses the sexually transmitted diseases and AIDs.”

A former county school board member, Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, then asked what would happen if the bill would become law.

“That’s probably a matter of semantics,” Tuckwiller said. “At this point, you would find that a majority of parents who are interested in exploring curriculum, whether it be in this subject or any subject, take the opportunity to do so, often at the beginning of the school year to familiarize themselves. As far as an opportunity versus advanced notice, this seems to be a more deliberate and direct instruction to notify parents or guardians.”

“How so?” Baldwin asked. “Send something home?”

“It could be sent home,” Tuckwiller said. “It could be included in a board meeting. A curriculum is a decision that is made at the local level, and so perhaps the county board would choose when adopting the curriculum to make parents aware, so they could see and have the right to exempt. It could be done prior to the lesson. I think it would depend on how each district wishes to handle that.”

Baldwin asked, “Is that markedly different from what we do now?

Wiseman told him, “The way it’s written now, the notice could be the day before, so that wouldn’t adequately give parents enough time. So then the parents could technically file a complaint because they weren’t notified with enough time.”

“Our recommendation is to have it in a formal letter actually that they send home to the parents, so that every parent is notified.” – Joey Wiseman

Advanced notice would mean giving them more time, he said. “Our recommendation is to have it in a formal letter actually that they send home to the parents, so that every parent is notified,” Wiseman said.

Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, asked, “Could the posting of these materials to, say, the county board of education website be sufficient enough to meet this qualification?”

Tuckwiller replied, “Certainly, I don’t think the provision is written as prescriptive as to preclude that.”

The committee then approved an amendment from Weld to change the language to make it clearer that parents would have to be given advanced notice before their children are taught about sexually transmitted diseases “along with the opportunity to examine course curriculum requirements and materials for use in the instruction.” When asked if “advanced notice” is an amorphous term, Weld said he wanted to leave it to the state school board to provide any further specificity.

But that didn’t eliminate the concerns some senators had about the bill.

“We’re making it harder to have our children have education regarding sexually transmitted diseases,” Stollings said. “It’s hard for me to be for that. I’m concerned that we’re limiting an educational opportunity for our children who need to know about these diseases. I don’t see how this bill is good public policy.”

Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, agreed and said it would make it harder for students to avoid dangerous activities. He moved to table the bill, but that motion was defeated on a vote of eight to six.

“I think our law in this respect is trying to balance things that we think ought to be taught in the public schools with the fundamental right we all recognize of parents to parent their children.” – Sen. Charles Trump

Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, spoke in favor of the bill. “Current law is a parent or guardian may exempt a child from participation in instruction by giving notice to that effect in writing to the school principal,” he said. “I think our law in this respect is trying to balance things that we think ought to be taught in the public schools with the fundamental right we all recognize of parents to parent their children. And I think our current law does a decent job of balancing those two questions.”

However, Trump said, the bill would make it clearer how parents could exercise their rights.

“I think it’s a reasonable bill,” he said. “I think it makes our current law better.”

But Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, disagreed. Noting that he was one of only two committee members who have children in public schools right now, he said he and his wife receive adequate notice from the school system when their children might be presented with materials he and his wife might find objectionable. He said schools across the state probably give such notice.

Thus, he suggested that the bill is unnecessary. “It’s a situation of us micromanaging education out there, and I find that offensive,” Beach said.

On the other side, Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, said he has never received such notification in regard to his three kids. “This bill helps establish that parents have control over the children, and they are the primary sovereign over their kids,” he said in urging approval of the bill.

Azinger also endorsed the main purpose of the bill, saying Americans don’t know enough about the important documents of American history.

The Senate Education Committee approved House Bill 4398 on a voice vote with several members voting against it. The bill was scheduled to be on the second of three required readings in the Senate today, meaning it could pass as early as Tuesday. If the amendment proposed by Weld remains, the bill would have to go back to the House of Delegates to decide whether to accept that change. The House approved the bill in its earlier version on a vote of 92 to three on February 13.

By Jim Wallace

If the House of Delegates goes along with the Senate on Senate Bill 661, schools would no longer face a requirement for a minimum number of minutes in an instructional day. Instead, they would be required to have an average of at least five hours per day throughout the instructional term.

The bill’s lead sponsor, Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said that is the same requirement for private and parochial schools.

“It clarifies the county board is still required to ensure that the average of five hours over 180 days is maintained, and it requires the county board to provide public notice of public hearings for discussing the school calendar by publishing prominently on the board’s website in addition to the existing requirement of publishing in a local newspaper of general circulation in the area,” she said.

The original version of the bill also would have prohibited a school year from beginning before September 1, but that provision was removed from the bill.

The Senate voted 34 to zero last Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 661. It is now in the hands of the House of Delegates.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee spent much time on Saturday on a Senate bill designed to put more teachers in front of students before approving the bill and sending it on to the full House of Delegates. It was just last Monday that the Senate voted 33 to zero to approve Senate Bill 691.

Exactly what the bill would do wasn’t immediately clear from the explanation Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, offered to her colleagues just before the vote. She said, “This bill provides that additional alternative programs to prepare teachers established or adopted solely by the state board are separate from the programs established under certain other alternative sections of code, do not require a partner, are applicable only to persons who hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education, are subject to certain other statutory provisions only to the extent specifically provided for in the state board rules and can be an alternative to the standard college and university programs for the education of teachers and also may address the content area preparation of these persons.”

The explanation the House Education Committee received Saturday was that the bill would follow up on legislation from a past year that allowed county school boards to hire teachers who have received alternative certification rather than having gone through the normal process of earning degrees from teachers’ colleges. Senate Bill 691 would allow the state school board to do the same to fill teaching positions at the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and the Blind and at correctional institutions.

“To be clear, it’s not changing the certification requirements. It’s just changing the pathway to qualify.” – Dave Mohr

“To be clear, it’s not changing the certification requirements,” Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the House Education Committee, said. “It’s just changing the pathway to qualify.”

Interpreting what that would mean, Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said, “All the bill does is take the same rules that now apply to the county school districts and have them apply to teachers who are employed by the state.”

House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, added, “I think it allows the state board to decide what criteria they want.”

Sarah Stewart, an attorney for the Department of Education, said, “This is similar, in a sense, to the alternative certification programs the counties use.” She said that allows individuals who do not have education degrees but who do have content experience to acquire the pedagogy they need to go into classrooms. The bill would clarify that the state board would have the authority to do what the county boards can do, she said, and it would help with teacher shortages.

The board probably already has this authority, Stewart said, but the bill would clarify that it could do this.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate could pass as early as Tuesday a bill that would require the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission to recognize preparatory athletic programs, whose members attend a secondary school in West Virginia for academic instruction, solely for the purpose of allowing those programs to compete on a national level.

The prime example of that is Huntington Prep, whose students take classes at St. Joseph Central Catholic High School while learning to play competitive basketball on a national level. As Arkell Bruce, head coach at Huntington Prep, told the House Education Committee, his students get educated through St. Joseph’s between 8:00 a.m. and 3 p.m. Before and after that, they work on their basketball skills, so they can play some of the best high school teams in the nation.

But Bruce said there is a problem. “There are certain events and tournaments we can’t play in,” he said. That’s because Huntington Prep is not recognized by the SSAC. Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said that lack of recognition has prevented Huntington Prep from competing for certain national titles. The program doesn’t want to compete in SSAC events, just get SSAC recognition, he said.

House Bill 4925 would require the SSAC to recognize programs like Huntington Prep without making them SSAC members. A program would have to pay the same fees as any member school, but such recognition would not entitle the program to compete against a member school during the regular season or in any SSAC state championship event.

The House of Delegates passed the bill on a vote of 97 to zero last Wednesday. It was scheduled for the second of three readings in the Senate on Saturday, but that was delayed until today, meaning Tuesday is the earliest the Senate might pass the bill.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee was scheduled today to consider a bill on student nutrition and exercise.

The Senate sent Senate Bill 702 to the House of Delegates a couple of weeks ago after voting 32 to zero to approve it.

The bill would allow school districts to adopt alternative programs for grades three through six that focus on preventing childhood obesity and secondary diseases associated with it. That would be instead of a program on nutrition now required by the state school board. It also would provide state funding for them. Secondary diseases associated with childhood obesity include: diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, asthma, certain cancers, low-self-esteem, and depression.

Senate Bill 702 would establish the Nutrition and Exercise Education Fund from which money would be awarded on a competitive basis to eligible school districts. The state school board would provide guidelines for administration of the fund, and the Education Department would report to the governor and the legislature on awards made from the fund. The programs would have to be at least eight weeks long with testing beforehand and afterward. School districts would be allowed to contract with qualified service providers to handle the programs.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has passed a bill intended to make school zones safer for children at more times. The House voted 97 to zero Wednesday to approve House Bill 2897.

“Current law already restricts the speed limit at school zones to 15 miles per hour during school recess or while children are going to or leaving school during opening and closing hours,” House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said in explaining the bill just before the vote. “What this bill does is it adds that 15-mile-per-hour speed limit also applies whenever the school zone flashing beacons are present and active.”

When the bill was going through House committees, its lead sponsor, Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, said he proposed it after a little boy was hit near Beverly Elementary School in his district while going to a Halloween party. The school’s principal requested from the Department of Transportation a key to unlock the box for the control panel for the lights, so that, during after-school events and when the school has delayed starts and early dismissals, the principal can turn on the lights.

House Bill 2897 has gone to the Senate.

By Jim Wallace

A bill approved by the House of Delegates would create four new service personnel aide positions to work with students to have identified behavioral difficulties. The House voted 94 to zero last Wednesday to approve House Bill 4535.

These are the positions it would create:

  • “Aide V (Special Education Classroom Assistant Teacher) - Temporary Authorization” means a person who does not possess minimum requirements for the permanent authorization requirements, but is enrolled in and pursuing requirements as prescribed by the state board of education. No service person shall be entitled to receive the paygrade associated with this classification unless he or she has applied for and been selected to fill a posted position which specifically requires the successful candidate to hold or be enrolled in and pursuing the requirements for the classification. The determination as to whether a position will be posted requiring this classification is solely at the discretion of the county;
  • “Aide V (Special Education Classroom Assistant Teacher) - Permanent Authorization” means a service person who holds at least the “Aide I” classification and who holds a high school diploma or a general educational development certificate and who has completed the requirements and experience to be prescribed by the state board of education. These classes are designed to improve skills and competency’s related to the provision of services to special needs students. No service person shall be entitled to receive the paygrade associated with this classification unless he or she has applied for and been selected to fill a posted position which specifically requires the successful candidate to hold or be enrolled in and pursuing the requirements for the classification. The determination as to whether a position will be posted requiring this classification is solely at the discretion of the county;
  • “Aide VI (Student Behavioral Support Specialist) - Temporary Authorization” means a person who does not possess minimum requirements for the permanent authorization requirements, but is enrolled in and pursuing the requirements as prescribed by the state board of education. No service person shall be entitled to receive the paygrade associated with this classification unless he or she has applied for and been selected to fill a posted position which specifically requires the successful candidate to hold or be enrolled in and pursuing the requirements for the classification. The determination as to whether a position will be posted requiring this classification is solely at the discretion of the county; and
  • “Aide VI (Student Behavioral Support Specialist) - Permanent Authorization” means a person who works with a student or students who have identified behavior difficulties and has completed the requirements and experience to be prescribed by the state board of education. No service person shall be entitled to receive the paygrade associated with this classification unless he or she has applied for and been selected to fill a posted position which specifically requires the successful candidate to hold or be enrolled in and pursuing the requirements for the classification. The determination as to whether a position will be posted requiring this classification is solely at the discretion of the county.

House Bill 4535 has been assigned to the Senate Education Committee for further consideration.

By Jim Wallace

A bill to help school districts with large transportation costs has completed its legislative journey and is ready for Gov. Jim Justice to decide whether it should become law. One district it would help is his home area of Greenbrier County.

The House of Delegates approved Senate Bill 241 on a vote of 92 to zero on Friday. The bill would require the state school board to figure out how to address transportation personnel shortages in large, rural school districts. As Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the House Education Committee, told committee members last Monday, the bill is a substitute for one that would have required the state school board to develop a method for student transportation costs to be a stand-alone consideration. This bill wouldn’t do that.

“What it does do is make a finding that the present method for calculation the foundation allowance for service personnel in Step 2 of the [School Aid] Formula that we talked about the other day may not provide sufficient funding to meet the student transportation needs of lower-population-density districts covering large geographic areas,” he said. “It requires the state board to propose revisions to that allowance to provide additional personnel positions for those districts and report that to the legislature by December 1, 2020.”

Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, said he strongly supported the bill after proposing similar legislation last year and this year because superintendents from rural counties have been struggling with the costs of busing students.

“There’s an inequity there that we can go a long ways toward taking care of if we develop a separate formula for the transportation.” – Delegate Matthew Rohrbach

“There’s an inequity there that we can go a long ways toward taking care of if we develop a separate formula for the transportation,” he said. “I don’t know what the formula needs to be…but I just think that this needs to be a separate calculation, and I trust there are people way smarter than me that can come up with that and then report back to this body next year for approval.”

The Senate had approved Senate Bill 241 on a vote of 33 to zero on January 29.

 

By Jim Wallace

A bill to help fund video cameras for certain special education classrooms cleared the Senate last week and seems headed for passage in the House of Delegates this week.

Senate Bill 614 is a follow-up to legislation passed last year to require the cameras in all self-contained special education classrooms. Last year’s bill was a response to an incident that occurred in a Berkeley County classroom. It allocated money evenly among schools without regard to how many classrooms they had that needed the cameras. This year’s bill would change the method of funding the cameras.

“This bill sets out the manner in which the Department of Education should allocate additional funding for the 2019-2020 school year into the special revenue account known as the Safe Schools Fund to fully accomplish the goal of [last year’s] bill by providing funding for all the school districts to have cameras in special education classrooms,” Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said. “The bill then provides that, once all the schools are equipped with cameras in special education classes, that funding will revert to the prior funding mechanism based on the number of public schools. The total cost for this year is $400,000.”

The Senate passed the bill on a vote of 33 to zero last Tuesday. Since then, the House Finance Committee approved it without changes. That set it up for its first reading on the House floor today, which means it the House could pass it as early as Wednesday and send it to the governor to decide whether to sign it into law.

By Jim Wallace

A Senate-approved bill on suicide prevention is on track to pass in the House of Delegates as soon as Tuesday after a similar House bill failed to survive. The bill on the move is Senate Bill 230, which the Senate approved on a vote of 33 to zero. The other bill, House Bill 4568, stalled in the House Finance Committee.

“This bill requires the state board to provide routine education in suicide prevention,” Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst for the House Education Committee said when that committee considered Senate Bill 230, adding that it was about the same as House Bill 4568, which the committee previously approved. “New language would require the state board to provide routine education for all professional educators, including principals and administrators and those having direct contact with students, to assist in the prevention of suicide under guidelines established by the state board.”

The bill would reinstate suicide prevention requirements that were removed inadvertently from state code in 2018 in a bill that eliminated the Department of Education and the Arts. The House Education Committee amended the bill to have it be known as “Jamie’s Law,” as the previous law was titled.

That little change, if it remains, would require the bill to go back to the Senate after passage in the House for senators to decide whether to accept it with the change.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate Education Committee on Saturday approved House Bill 4414, which would have the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Resources form an advisory committee on the selection of language developmental milestones for children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing that are equivalent to those for children with normal hearing.

Monica DellaMea, executive director of the Education Department’s Office of Early and Elementary Learning, said the two departments worked together to develop the bill.

The committee spent about an hour on the bill Saturday. Certain members were concerned about whether parents would be pressured toward having their children either use American Sign Language and English to communicate or to use assistive technology, such as cochlear implants. But DellaMea said advocates of both methods would have equal representation on the committee, so there shouldn’t be a bias either way.

“It’s always going to be a family’s choice, and that is what this is about – honoring a family’s choice,” she said.

The bill now goes to the full Senate. The House of Delegates approved it on a vote of 98 to zero on February 5. But the Senate Education Committee made a small change in the bill to require reports to be made to two legislative committees, so if the Senate approves House Bill 4414 in that version, it would have to go back to the House to decide whether to accept that change.

By Jim Wallace

The Senate Education Committee has approved a House-passed bill to strengthen state law on disciplining teachers. House Bill 4378 now goes to the full Senate.

The House of Delegates passed the bill almost a month ago on February 5 on a vote of 98 to zero.

The bill would authorize the state school superintendent to discipline or revoke the teaching certificate of any teacher found to have committed sexual misconduct involving a student, minor or individual who was a student in the preceding 24 months.

The bill would authorize the state superintendent to issue subpoenas to obtain testimony and documents to aid in the investigation of any allegations against any persons subject to licensure by the state superintendent. It also would require teachers and any person issued a license by the state superintendent to maintain a professional relationship with all students at all times both in and out of the classroom. The bill lists offenses that could result in the revocation of a teacher’s license for at least five years.

House Bill 4378 was the last bill the Senate Education Committee approved on Saturday.

By Jim Wallace

If West Virginia legislators want public high school students to be able to take elective courses on religious scriptures, they’ll have to settle on how to reconcile differences in bills that emerged from the House of Delegates and the Senate.

The two bills, House Bill 4780 and Senate Bill 38, started out very much alike in permitting the teaching of electives based on Hebrew Scriptures and the Bible’s Old Testament and New Testament. But the version of Senate Bill 38 that the Senate passed quickly on Wednesday on a vote of 34 to zero is significantly different from the version of House Bill 4780 that the House passed Tuesday on a vote of 73 to 26 after 45 minutes of debate and after a half-hour public hearing in the House chamber.

As a result of an amendment proposed by a pastor, Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, Senate Bill 38 now calls for allowing electives on “sacred texts or comparative religions,” rather than specifying any particular texts that could be considered.

“Shakespeare has 1,300 references to the Bible. You can’t study Shakespeare well if you don’t have a working knowledge of the language of the Bible.” – Delegate Kevan Bartlett

The lead sponsor of House Bill 4780 is another pastor, Delegate Kevan Bartlett, R-Kanawha. He said the proposed courses would give students an overview of how the Bible has influenced culture, art, music and literature. ‘We’re still teaching Shakespeare in public schools,” he said on the House floor. “Shakespeare has 1,300 references to the Bible. You can’t study Shakespeare well if you don’t have a working knowledge of the language of the Bible.”

But an opponent of the bill, Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, doubted that the Bible could be taught without veering into theology. “I think this is something that is deeply personal when you’re talking about one’s religion and how one learns about it and I think that’s exactly why it should be kept in churches, synagogues and mosques and at home where parents can teach their children about religion,” he said.

During the debate, Delegate Tom Fast, R-Fayette, said he understood misgivings that some people have about the bill, but he thought it is needed to give students a proper perspective on American history.

“If we don’t understand and we don’t pass on to the next generation where we came from – where did we get our criminal code, where did we get the jurisdiction of the church, where did we get the jurisdiction of civil government, where did we get the jurisdiction of the individual?” he said. “Well, I can tell you where all that came from. It came from the Bible. And so, if we just going to ignore that and throw it out and say, no we don’t want that, we’re teaching a revisionist history. We’re not teaching true history.”

“On its face, it is unconstitutional. It discriminates against my religion.” – Delegate Mike Pushkin

But Pushkin, who is one of two Jewish members of the House, said the bill would discredit his religion by the way it refers to its scriptures. “That is conferring a peculiar privilege or advantage on a sect or denomination,” he said. “On its face, it is unconstitutional. It discriminates against my religion.”

Speakers split at public hearing.

House Bill 4780 moved forward to passage Tuesday after being the subject Monday of a public hearing in which 23 speakers were divided almost evenly over the bill. Twelve people, including a third-grader, spoke against the bill, and 11 spoke in favor of it. The opponents included people from Christian, Jewish, Muslim and no stated religious backgrounds, while the supporters spoke mainly from a Christian background.

Although the bill would allow courses that teach about the Hebrew Scriptures, as well as the Old Testament and New Testament of the Bible, Rabbi Victor Urecki of Charleston’s B’nai Jacob Synagogue said he still opposed the bill. “It’s because in this country we affirm the dignity and the worth and respect of every human being,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want his religion’s sacred texts to be used “in a way that would marginalize students of different faiths and say that one text, one sacred text, is more important or sacred than another.”

Also speaking against the bill was Ibtesam Sue Barazi, president of the Islamic Association of West Virginia. “Those girls who wear the hijab, such as myself – they already feel discrimination, isolation and demonization from other children and sometimes from some teachers, as well,” she said. “So we don’t need to have them pointed out when they choose not to choose this class.”

Such an experience was why Malco Cohen, a third-grader at Piedmont Elementary School, just blocks away from the Capitol in Charleston, spoke against the bill. “My little brother and I are the only Jewish kids at our school,” he said. “One-day last year at my after-school program, the teachers taught us about Jesus and made us pledge allegiance to the Bible. It made me feel very worried and confused. I felt like I was doing something wrong.”

Cohen said he was afraid other children would face such problems if legislation to allow teaching on the Bible would become law. He added that his teachers said that they would send him and his brother to a room by themselves if they taught the other children about the Bible and Jesus in the future.

“That solution seemed so, so stupid to me,” Cohen said. “How would you feel if you were sent to a room all by yourself just because you were Jewish?”

Among citizens who spoke in favor of the bill was Kevin Foster, who cited the words of some of the nation’s founding fathers. “James Madison said the Bible is the best book in the world,” he said. “He was a signer of the Declaration [of Independence]…. Patrick Henry said the Bible is a book worth more than all the other books that were ever printed. John Jay, the president of the Congress, said, by conveying the Bible to people, we certainly do the most interesting act of kindness.”

Another citizen in support of the bill, Bo Burgess, said, “The Bible is the best-selling book of all time, having been sold over 5 billion copies. Why wouldn’t you want the youth of America to be exposed to the best-selling book of all-time?”

When House Bill 4780 was on amendment stage in the House last Monday, Pushkin and Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, proposed amending bill to make it like the Senate bill after Baldwin’s amendment. But Bartlett argued against it.

“Since it does not define what these plural sacred texts are, the sacred texts could mean almost any writing, and so we’re going to offer a course of any writing that some thinks is sacred.” – Delegate Kevan Bartlett

“Since it does not define what these plural sacred texts are, the sacred texts could mean almost any writing, and so we’re going to offer a course of any writing that some think is sacred,” he said. “Perhaps even the writings of the New York Times would be considered by some as sacred.” He added that some people might even consider the writings of Adolf Hitler to be sacred.

The House voted 53 to 45 against changing the wording of House Bill 4780. Members of both parties voted on each side of that proposed amendment and on both sides of the bill itself.

The House has assigned Senate Bill 38 to its Education Committee and then to its Judiciary Committee. The Senate had not yet assigned House Bill 4780 to a committee.

By Jim Wallace

In a session with many attempts by legislators to put into law more restrictions on public schools, the Senate rejected one of those attempts last week by killing Senate Bill 775. It would have required each newly built and renovated schools to have at least two water bottle filling stations. The bill’s sponsors were Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, and Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall.

After Rucker urged her colleagues to support the bill, Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, spoke strongly against it.

“This bill mandates the type of water fountains that counties can place in new schools,” he said. “This is ridiculous. There are no guidelines that specific in any other part of the code about what’s supposed to be placed in new schools. That’s why we have the SBA [School Building Authority]. That’s why we have construction managers. That’s why we have boards of education. That’s why we have superintendents. This bill is a direct affront on all that and all those people.”

Baldwin, who served on his county school board, suggested that mandating the type of water fountains in schools would be as bad as mandating the color of paint on the walls or the brand of bread in cafeterias.

“This is the kind of micromanagement from Charleston that led me to run for office in the first place. What business do we have micromanaging every little bit of the classroom experience from the statehouse here? We’ve got none.” – Sen. Stephen Baldwin

“This is the kind of micromanagement from Charleston that led me to run for office in the first place,” he said. What business do we have micromanaging every little bit of the classroom experience from the statehouse here? We’ve got none.”

Further, Baldwin said, “Show our schools that you trust them to do their jobs. Show our communities that you trust their voices when they show up and elect their school boards to make these decisions. Show the people of West Virginia that you know better than to micromanage the classroom from the statehouse.”

Likewise, Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, also spoke against the bill, saying it would be more proper to ask the School Building Authority to look at the issue. Noting that his father served as a school board member for 12 years, Plymale said, “I can hear him talking to me from the grave right now: Do not do something to dictate what I was as a board member to tell me how to do something. Let me make that decision.”

The Senate voted 24 to nine to reject Senate Bill 775. The nine votes in favor of the bill included Rucker, Maroney and seven other Republicans.

By Jim Wallace

A Senate-passed bill on extended learning opportunities is headed to the full House of Delegates after receiving approval with a few changes on Saturday from the House Education Committee.

Just before the Senate voted 34 to zero last Wednesday to approve Senate Bill 750, Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said the state school board would have to promulgate rules to allow alternative educational opportunities to count as elective courses in high schools.

“The county board is required to adopt a policy that includes alternative education opportunities that could be classified as outside of the traditional classroom, and these courses would grant elective credit for those extended learning opportunities,” she said. “County boards of education will have the opportunity to approve or deny each application, but they must provide an explanation for the reasons for denial. Lastly, the bill provides that county boards will have the authority to audit approved opportunities, which may result in disqualification.”

When the House Education Committee took up the bill on Saturday, members learned that the opportunities that might qualify for elective credits could include after-school theater programs, Boys & Girls Programs, science clubs or 4-H programs. New Hampshire tried something like it, but made it for all credits, not just for elective courses, and had the state dictating what programs could comply rather than leaving decisions to the local level. In West Virginia, state school board policy already permits such elective, but nobody is taking advantage of it, so the Department of Education, the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia helped craft the language of the bill.

“This is the first bill I’ve seen that would totally give the county the job.” – Delegate Roy Cooper

The committee approved an amendment proposed by Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, that would require the state school board to report to the legislature on results of the program within three years, although Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, opposed the amendment. “This is the first bill I’ve seen that would totally give the county the job,” he said, so he didn’t want to add any bureaucracy. However, other delegates argued that just requiring a report would not add bureaucracy, and legislators will want to know if the program is working.

The committee narrowly rejected another amendment from Thompson that would have required that any such elective course would be pass/fail and not receive letter grades. He argued that change would be prudent because the activities that would be counted would not necessarily be overseen by teachers.

Among those who objected was Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, who argued for leaving it up to county school boards to decide whether courses should be graded or be pass/fail.

“Rather than to try to micromanage that from here in Charleston, I recommend that we retain the flexibility and discretion that’s contained in the legislation.” – Delegate Paul Espinosa

“Rather than to try to micromanage that from here in Charleston, I recommend that we retain the flexibility and discretion that’s contained in the legislation,” he said.

The committee rejected the proposed amendment on a vote of 10 to 11.

After discussion, Thompson withdrew another amendment that would have required background checks for all personnel at the activities to be used as the extended learning opportunities, instead of just key personnel, to make sure the students would be safe.

Sarah Stewart, an attorney for the Department of Education, said the bill already would give county school boards flexibility to determine how many background checks would be needed. “One of county boards’ paramount concerns is safety of students,” she said. Other delegates argued the amendment would make the provisions of the bill too unwieldy.

Then, the committee approved another amendment offered by Delegates Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, and Caleb Hanna, R-Webster, to require county school boards to adopt policies on the extended learning opportunities rather than just allowing them to do so, as the version of the bill under consideration in the committee would have done.

“If we don’t require them to do it, there’s no guarantee the students will have that opportunity,” Higginbotham said.

Delegate Robert Thompson, D-Wayne, opposed the amendment, saying many southern counties have lost population, so they might not have many opportunities for programs like those called for in the bill.

Delegate Cody Thompson also opposed the amendment. “My county operates on a shoestring budget unfortunately,” he said. “We talk about local control, but this would be very restrictive and almost force it on the counties.”

But Espinosa argued that requiring a policy would not require participation.

After the committee approved the altered form of Senate Bill 750, Delegate Mark Dean, R-Mingo, said it would do much good, especially in rural parts of West Virginia.

If the full House of Delegates approves the bill the way the Education Committee changed it, it would have to go back to the Senate for a decision on whether to accept those changes.

By Jim Wallace

It’s now up to the Senate to decide whether to pass a bill approved by every member of the House of Delegates. House Bill 4497 would make an automated external defibrillator and posted emergency plan available at all extramural secondary school athletic events, including practices.

The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission would be expected to require the defibrillators to be present at all high school or middle school athletic events, including at golf courses and courses for cross-country runs when events are held in those locations. All school sports personnel would have to be trained in the use of defibrillators.

“In September of last year, a Roane County, West Virginia, student passed away on the football field during football game,” Delegate Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, said shortly before the House voted on the bill. “Unfortunately, he was unable to be revived. Statistics show that 2,000 children in the United States die every year from sudden cardiac arrest, and two-thirds of those occur on the ballfield.”

If passed, the bill would be known as the Alex Miller Law in honor of the Roane County High School student who died on the football field.

“We can’t put a cost on a life, not of our young people.” – Delegate John Mandt

Delegate John Mandt, R-Cabell, urged his colleagues to vote for the bill because it was an opportunity for them to be proactive in protecting lives. “We can’t put a cost on a life, not of our young people,” he said.

Delegate Rodney Miller, D-Boone, said, “Rest assured this addresses a very, very serious issue.” He explained that he is an athletic coach who doesn’t normally have a trainer or an ambulance on site. He said he couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have an athlete go into cardiac arrest without being able to do something to help. The bill actually could save a life, he said.

An emergency room physician, Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, said it’s not just students the automated external defibrillators would protect. “AEDs are used most often at sporting events for all of us geezers sitting there watching the sports,” she said. “So since all of us here would like to be revived, I think that would be a good idea.”

House Finance Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, said the bill would not cost the state anything, but school districts would have to come up with a total of about $216,000 to pay for the needed defibrillators at a cost of $725 to $750 each.

In response to that, Delegate Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, said, “I don’t like unfunded mandates, but for $725 to save a life, figure it out.”

Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, said, when he served as an athletic trainer at Mountview High School in McDowell County, he saw two referees in consecutive football games have heart attacks. Each ended up having a triple bypass and never refereed again, he said. Evans said he also once performed cardio-pulmonary resuscitation did CPR on a basketball player on the court, and fortunately, the athlete survived.

“We need these things,” he said. “We need them badly.”

“We have it for ourselves. Why on earth would we not do it for our school children?” – Delegate Matthew Rohrbach

One of the physicians in the House, Delegate Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, said, “These events occur, ladies and gentlemen. You don’t know when. I’ve had to perform CPR on the field three times in my life as a doctor.” Noting that there is a defibrillator in the House chamber, he said, “We have it for ourselves. Why on earth would we not do it for our school children?”

The House then voted 100 to zero to pass House Bill 4497 last Wednesday. It now is in the hands of the Senate Education Committee.

 

By Jim Wallace

The Senate was scheduled to give House Bill 4790 on career technical education for middle school students a final reading today and put the bill up for a vote.

The bill would modify the current programs in workforce preparedness by broadening the information to be communicated to all students to include the knowledge, college and career skills and life characteristics that are needed for success in occupations and entrepreneurship in the changing world of work.

At the middle school level, the program could be integrated with comprehensive career explorations. Beginning with the school year 2022-2023, county boards of education would have to provide elective CTE courses for middle school students that could include foundational CTE courses, CTE courses developed with a high school on high-need occupational areas within their region, as well as courses on agriculture, industrial arts and family and consumer sciences.

The Senate Education Committee changed the words “home economics” in the bill to “family and consumer sciences,” so if the Senate would pass the bill, it would have to return to the House to decide whether to accept that change.

The House voted 94 to one to approve the bill on February 13.

By Jim Wallace

The House could pass Senate Bill 303 as early as Tuesday after the House Education Committee gave its approval on Friday.

“This bill creates a Students’ Right to Know Act, which is essentially a list of information that the state [school] board in collaboration with the Higher Education Policy Commission and the Council for Community and Technical College Education are to collect and distribute to schools by October 15 each year for guidance counselors to distribute them to students and to post on their state Department of Education website,” Dave Mohr, senior policy analyst, said in explaining the bill to the House Education Committee. The requirements would take effect January 1, 2021.

Matt Turner of the Higher Education Policy Commission said it shouldn’t be a problem for higher education to comply with the bill’s provisions for data collection.

“A good portion of it we already collect and have access to,” he said. “There are some areas that may be difficult, but we have permissive language in here if we are unable to get it.”

If the House passes Senate Bill 303, it would have to go back to the Senate to decide whether to accept a change the House Education Committee made in its wording.

The Senate passed its version of the bill 32 to zero on January 27.

By Jim Wallace

The House Education Committee was scheduled today to consider Senate Bill 842, which would require the state superintendent of schools to establish a behavior interventionist pilot program to be implemented in two county school districts for the duration of five years. Those two districts would be allowed to a new employment position, entitled “behavior interventionist.”

The bill originated in the Senate Education Committee on February 21. The full Senate passed it last Wednesday on a vote of 34 to zero.

“With the drug epidemic, they said that they’re seeing because of the ACEs [adverse childhood experiences]…children are coming with behavioral issues and problems that they’ve never seen or faced in the past. So this is an attempt to help our existing teachers and also help those children.” – Sen. Tom Takubo

“The ideology of this came from teachers and the superintendent from our county who came and requested this,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, said. “With the drug epidemic, they said that they’re seeing because of the ACEs [adverse childhood experiences]…children are coming with behavioral issues and problems that they’ve never seen or faced in the past. So this is an attempt to help our existing teachers and also help those children.”

Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said the bill would allow the designated school districts to create new positions immediately for behavior interventionists. She called the job “a school-based position that specializes in addressing behavior issues at a school.”

“Once the counties are chosen, the county superintendent is required to convene an advisory committee consisting of principals, teachers, classroom aides and the education organizations to advise the superintendent and county board on qualifications and hiring,” Rucker said. “The school districts designated for the pilot programs are required to establish qualifications and initial and continuing training requirements for the personnel employed in the position.”

The bill would require annual reports on the program to the legislature.

By Jim Wallace

The House of Delegates has sent to the Senate a bill designed to help public schools retain more of their young teachers. The House voted 96 to zero last Wednesday to approve House Bill 4804.

“The goals of the teacher leader framework include development of a shared leadership structure at the school level, broader dissemination and use of effective teaching strategies through an increase in teacher collaboration, and the development and retention of highly effective teachers,” House Education Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said in explaining the bill before the House voted. “The Department of Education will retain the first $100,000 of the School Aid Formula funds for teacher induction, which is about 1.9 percent, for each of the first five years of the program to assist county boards in the design and implementation of teacher leader frameworks. It may form networks of the schools or systems that have similar size, interests and needs. Teacher leader frameworks must be driven by varying district and school needs, be designed to improve student achievement and fit district size, the culture of collaboration and funding capacity.”

One of the teachers in the House gave the bill a strong endorsement.

“This is an amazing bill.” – Delegate Cody Thompson

“This is an amazing bill,” Delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, said. “Currently right now, we are experiencing teachers who are burning out at alarming rates in West Virginia, especially in the first five years. This bill will allow leadership positions of teachers who may not necessarily want to move up into higher levels like administration or into county administration but also to offer their skills and help out new teachers who are coming on board.”

The Senate has assigned House Bill 4804 to its Education Committee, which had not yet put it on its agenda heading into this final week of the legislative session.

By Jim Wallace

A bill to help the School Building Authority avoid undue delay on school construction contracts is headed to Gov. Jim Justice to decide whether to sign it into law.

Senate Bill 652 would give the SBA more authority to perform due diligence and hold bidders and contractors more accountable.

The House of Delegates approved the bill on a vote of 94 to five on Friday, and the Senate on Saturday accepted changes the House made in the bill. That’s all it needed to go to the governor. The Senate had previously approved it on a vote of 34 to zero.

By Jim Wallace

Members of the legislature want to make sure that West Virginia’s public schools improve the way they discipline students. That’s why the Senate voted 33 to zero last Monday to approve Senate Bill 723 and the House Education Committee gave its approval to the bill Saturday after making a few changes.

“Senate Bill 723 requires the West Virginia Department of Education to analyze state-level data collected on school disciplinary action, and, based on the findings of this data, create a statewide program aimed at addressing the number of disciplinary actions taken by county school boards,” Senate Education Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said just before the Senate voted on the bill. “Additionally, Senate Bill 723 requires the Department of Education to prepare a report on their findings and the progress of the statewide program.”

That report would have to be presented to the legislature every two years starting in 2022.

“The overall goal of this legislation is to help us to find alternative ways to handle disciplinary issues in our schools,” Rucker said.

“We certainly are getting some initial data that shows that, when we expel a student from school, that their chance of becoming a productive member of society goes way down.” – Sen. Ron Stollings

Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, endorsed the bill. “We certainly are getting some initial data that shows that, when we expel a student from school, that their chance of becoming a productive member of society goes way down,” he said. “We have to study this. If we’re going to do anything, it has to be in-school suspension or something like that. We just can’t put them out because that’s the quickest way to the prison yard. That’s what the preliminary data is showing, so we have to look at this and find out what’s right for our kids.”

On Saturday, the House Education Committee amended the bill to have the data collected include information on subgroups, including race, gender and disabilities. It also would state that county school boards would have to implement the provisions of the bill with the ultimate goal of improving disciplinary outcomes.

If the full House approves that version of the bill, it would have to return to the Senate for a decision on whether to accept the House changes.

By Jim Wallace

A bill approved by the Senate and one House committee would create a state advisory council to help ensure that West Virginia has more citizens with college degrees or other post-high school credentials within the next decade.

Senate Bill 839 would create the State Advisory Council on Postsecondary Attainment Goals. The council, which would include the state superintendent of schools or a representative of the superintendent, would have to collaborate with the Higher Education Policy Commission and the Council for Community and Technical College Education to identify high-value and in-demand postsecondary credentials. It also would have to develop a plan to assist the state in achieving its postsecondary attainment goal of having 60 percent of West Virginians between the ages of 25 and 64 hold a degree, certificate, or other postsecondary workforce credential of value in the workplace by 2030.

Members of the council would include:

  • The chancellor of the Higher Education Policy Commission, or his or her designee;
  • The state superintendent of schools or his or her designee;
  • The secretary of the Department of Commerce or his or her designee;
  • The director of WorkForce West Virginia or his or her designee;
  • Two presidents representing the state’s four-year institutions of higher education, at least one of which shall be the president of a regional institution, appointed jointly by the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House;
  • Two presidents representing the state’s community and technical colleges appointed jointly by the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House;
  • The chairperson of the Senate Committee on Education;
  • The chairperson of the House Committee on Education; and
  • Any other individuals deemed appropriate and appointed jointly by the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House.

On Saturday, the House Education Committee amended the bill to add representatives from two different employers’ industry associations and representatives from two regional economic development groups. Delegate Joshua Higginbotham, who offered the amendment, said it would make sure that employers are involved.

If the House of Delegates approves Senate Bill 839 with those changes, the bill would have to return to the Senate to consider whether to accept the changes. The Senate approved its version of the bill last Wednesday on a vote of 33 to zero.

By Jim Wallace

After a long discussion, the Senate Education Committee on Saturday gave its approval to House Bill 4691, which is meant to help school districts hire teachers in areas of critical need.

The bill would extend the authorization to employ retired teachers in critical need areas to June 30, 2025, instead of letting that authorization expire this June. It also would add school counselor to the definition of teacher or substitute, so retired counselors could also be employed as long-term substitutes.

In addition, the bill has provisions designed to make it easier for school districts to offer employment to students in teaching colleges before their graduation. That would allow districts to attract prospective teachers in high-demand subjects, such as science and mathematics, before they are lured away by schools in other states with more lenient hiring provisions in their laws. Some schools in other states have offered positions to students in West Virginia’s teachers colleges several months before July, when West Virginia school districts traditionally have been allowed to post openings. If the bill would become law, districts would be able to offer prospective teachers provisional contracts pending their graduation and certification.

The House approved House Bill 4691 on a vote of 97 to zero on February 10.

“Certainly, this is a tool to help with that problem.” – Sarah Stewart

On Saturday, Sarah Stewart, an attorney for the Department of Education, said West Virginia has between 500 and 600 positions that are not filled by appropriately qualified teachers. “Certainly, this is a tool to help with that problem,” she told the Senate Education Committee.

After members asked many questions about the bill, the committee approved it and sent it on to the full Senate.

 

 

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.