WV Legislature passes home-school, virtual education bills

Lawmakers Saturday completed legislation giving home-schoolers access to public vocational education centers, giving them access to public school sports and allowing county public school systems to offer home-schoolers and others full-time K-12 virtual education — while getting state funding for it.

Saturday was the last day of the regular legislative session. Gov. Jim Justice still hasn’t signed or vetoed any of the bills that were finished by midnight.

Here’s what happened to multiple education bills:

n Senate Bill 630: The Legislature completed passage of this bill, which would allow county school systems to offer full-time K-12 virtual education and “an online pathway for earning a high school diploma,” while also receiving the full per-pupil state school aid formula funding for each student who participates.

Kanawha County Schools Superintendent Ron Duerring spoke to lawmakers in favor of the bill. So did lobbyists and an official from K12 Inc., a company that provides online education.

Duerring said the bill also would allow participating students, including home-schoolers, to participate in sports and other public school-related activities.

Before it passed, the House made a large change to the bill that added much of the original language from House Bill 2196. SB 630 would now allow home-schoolers not even participating in virtual education to participate in West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission athletics.

Bernie Dolan, the WVSSAC’s executive director, said his organization includes every West Virginia public middle school and public high school, as well as certain private schools, such as Charleston Catholic High. He said home-schoolers can’t currently take part in WVSSAC-sanctioned athletics.

The bill, while it says it’s not intended to save money through personnel cuts, exempts online courses from things like maximum teacher-pupil ratios.

The bill would allow a county school board or groups of school boards to offer “virtual instruction programs,” which provide “a full-time online or blended program of instruction for students enrolled in any composition of grades kindergarten through twelve.”

The bill defines “blended” programs as those that at least partly include online learning and at least partly include education “in a supervised setting outside the home.”

It says minimum qualifications for faculty must adhere to a section of current state law.

To create a virtual program, a county school board would have to choose to create a policy that lays out how the program will work. A board may then “contract with virtual school providers.”

The legislation says students in the virtual programs must meet the same state testing requirements “as other students in the school district.” To receive a diploma, students must complete “the same coursework required of regular public school students” in the county.

n House Bill 2589: The Legislature completed passage of this legislation.

The bill would allow home-school and private school students to attend public county school systems’ vocational education schools without being charged more than public school students.

The Senate added a middle school career and technical education initiative to the bill.

It had gone into, and emerged from, a conference committee that sought to hash out differences in the House and Senate versions.

n House Bill 2651: The Senate hadn’t passed a version of this bill as of Saturday evening and then referred it to its Rules Committee. It died.

The bill would reduce standardized testing requirements for most private schools in the near term but also would, in the future, more closely align testing requirements in those schools to what’s required in public schools.

Existing law requires all schools under Exemption (k) of state code — meaning all nonpublic schools except Catholic schools — to annually administer standardized tests “to every child enrolled therein between the ages of seven and sixteen years.” The law further says these tests must be “in the subjects of English, grammar, reading, social studies, science and mathematics.”

The bill would change the nonpublic school requirements to mandate standardized testing only of “students at the same grade levels as those required in the public schools of the state” and only in the subjects “required in the public schools of the state for administration of the state-wide summative assessment.”

Also, in place of the existing law’s requirement for private schools to administer such tests to “every child enrolled” in the specified range, the bill drops the participation rate to at least 90 percent of students “for a composite score to be considered valid.”

The bill maintains the existing law’s possible penalties for test results that are too low.

Before the 2014-15 school year, the state Board of Education required public schools to administer annual standardized tests in English language arts, math, science and social studies in grades three through 11.

But over the past few years, the board has eliminated all social studies standardized testing, reduced science standardized testing to only three grade levels and, earlier this month, voted to end math and English standardized testing in ninth and 10th grades.

But those moves affected only public schools. As of this spring, public schools will have standardized testing only in the federally required minimum number of grade levels and subjects.

The bill would also replace the section of existing law saying private schools must administer either “the comprehensive test of basic skills, the California achievement test, the Stanford achievement test or the Iowa tests of basic skills” with a generic requirement that they administer “a nationally normed standardized achievement test.”

n Senate Bill 621: The Senate refused to agree to the House’s amendment to this bill Saturday and asked the House to back down. It died before the House chose one way or the other.

This bill originally would have prevented state school board policy changes from affecting school consolidation processes that have already begun. The House amendment removed — or reversed — the legislation’s point.

The bill had said that “after a county board of education provides written notice to the state board that it has taken official action to begin the process of closing or consolidating a school or schools,” any changes to rules regarding school construction, consolidation or closing “shall not be applicable to the school closing or consolidation project described in the county board’s notification.”

The House erased the word “not” that’s between “shall” and “be” in that aforementioned sentence.

The Nicholas County school board plans to consolidate Richwood’s middle and high schools, which closed following the late-June flood, into a consolidated campus near Summersville, rather than rebuilding them near Richwood.

The bill attracted criticism because it could protect that consolidation plan. The state school board has not yet approved the plan, as it is generally required to do of all school closings.

In making the successful motion on the Senate floor to ask the House to withdraw its change, Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, said the change gave the bill “the exact opposite of its original intent.”

n House Bill 2702: The Legislature completed passage of this bill.

The bill would require, among other things, that for a student to receive an excused absence for a family member’s injury or illness, the student must provide “a reasonable explanation for why the student’s absence was necessary and caused by the illness or injury in the family” and says a “principal may request additional documentation including, but not limited to, a statement from a medical, osteopathic or chiropractic physician, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner confirming the existence of the family member’s illness or injury.”

n House Bill 3080: The Legislature completed passage of this bill, with the House agreeing to the Senate’s change.

It would designate the week of Sept. 11 in West Virginia schools as “Celebrate Freedom Week” and require public and private school students to study America’s founding documents.

The bill would not require students to actually learn about the Sept. 11 attacks, experts’ beliefs about the motivations of those attacks, motivations for continuing terrorist attacks, the modern history events preceding 9 / 11 or the attacks’ aftermath.

It also doesn’t specifically require students to learn about how the founding documents do or don’t relate to Sept. 11 or the events surrounding it.

It specifically says students must receive “appropriate instruction in each social studies class which ... Uses the historical, political and social environments surrounding each document at the time of its initial passage or ratification” and “Uses the historical, political and social environments surrounding each document at the time of its initial passage or ratification.”

It also requires an “in-depth study of the intent, meaning and importance of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States with an emphasis on the Bill of Rights.”

The Senate removed the mandate that there be “at least three hours” related to Celebrate Freedom Week in each social studies class, and the House agreed.

n House Bill 2196: The Legislature completed passage of this bill.

It would also allow home-school students to participate in West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission athletics. But it also would allow private school students “who are enrolled in a registered private or parochial school that does not have interscholastic programs” to participate.

The Senate added that language to the bill, as well as adding a provision to allow the non-public students to take part in not only WVSSAC athletics at public schools, but at WVSSAC-member private schools as well.

The Senate also nixed the House’s provision saying kids can be charged “reasonable fees” for participation. The Senate instead wanted to say “Homeschool, private, and parochial school students participating in interscholastic programs shall be required to pay the same amount that public school students pay.”

n House Bill 2561: The Legislature completed passage of this bill.

Senators said it increases the flexibility in how county school boards can spend their state school aid formula funding. Before passage, the Senate removed its added language that would have increased property tax rates statewide, significantly hiked taxes on wind turbines and the towers and allowed the state Schools for the Deaf and the Blind to apply for state School Building Authority grants above $1 million.

“That’s the point of the motion, to take out what we put into it,” said Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, before the Senate agreed to take out the provisions.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1254, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

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