In this year’s legislative session, Republican leaders used the first double-chamber GOP supermajority in 90 years to finally pass priorities that had eluded them.
Republicans passed a new priority to ban transgender women and girls from competing on women’s teams in middle school, high school and college sports. That legislation awaits Gov. Jim Justice’s approval or veto.
But, aside from these, lawmakers pushed a raft of other education bills. Here’s what happened to several of those.
Some we’ve written about before, but hadn’t yet reported their fate. Others we’re noting here for the first time:
Passed, signed into law
Senate Bill 435: Allowing home-school parents, private schools to approve child labor — For a 14- or 15-year-old to be allowed to work under current law, even if they are private- or home-schooled, they have to get a work permit approved by the public schools superintendent of their county.
The superintendent can currently authorize someone else to grant these work permits, but that’s ultimately the superintendent’s call.
However, now that Justice has signed this bill, the law will change June 24 to allow home-school parents and private schools to give this permission.
There will still be the current requirement that the person issuing the permit must review proof of the parent’s consent to work and an official birth certificate “or attested transcript thereof.”
But, in the case of a home-school parent, it would be the child’s own parent tasked with reviewing the proof of age regarding their own child — without anyone else verifying it, or verifying that the child is being educated.
A copy of each work permit issued will still have to be provided to the state labor commissioner.
Sen. Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh and a private school administrator, was the bill’s lead sponsor. He said he’d been signing work permits for over 30 years before one was denied recently, under a law Roberts heard passed a few years ago.
The Senate passed this bill 33-0, with Sen. David Stover, R-Wyoming, absent.
In the House of Delegates, 21 of the 23 Democratic delegates voted against it, but no Republicans joined them. Two Democrats — Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, and Ed Evans, D-McDowell — voted with 73 Republicans for it.
Four Republicans were absent: Barry Bruce, R-Greenbrier; Joe Ellington, R-Mercer; Larry Pack, R-Kanawha; and Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh.
House Bill 2001: Tax benefits for license fees, start-up costs — Under this, people will be able to reduce how much state income tax they must pay by investing in a “Jumpstart Savings Account,” which the investor or someone else could use to start a trade or small business.
The investor will be able to reduce their federal adjusted gross income, a figure used to calculate state income tax burden, by one dollar for every dollar they invest into the account, up to $25,000 annually.
The person benefiting from the account will then be able to use the money, without having to pay taxes on it, if they spend it on certain expenses. Those include licensure or certification fees for a trade; tools or other supplies; and business or occupational start-up costs.
For every dollar an employer puts into an employee’s account, to match the worker’s own investment, the employer will get to reduce how much state income tax they must pay by one dollar. Employers can shave off up to $5,000 annually in taxes in this way.
New Republican State Treasurer Riley Moore pushed the bill, and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, was the lead sponsor.
The Senate passed it 33-0, with Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, absent, and the House passed it 97-1. Delegate George Miller, R-Morgan, was the only no vote, while Delegates Mark Dean, R-Mingo, and Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, were absent.
Passed, awaiting governor’s approval or veto
Senate Bill 307: In-state tuition for military — Under current law, active members of the National Guard participating in the National Guard education services program can only be charged in-state tuition rates by state colleges and universities, even if they’re not technically West Virginia residents.
If Justice approves this bill, this guaranteed in-state tuition rate would be expanded to all current U.S. military members who live in West Virginia, including the reserves, and including National Guard members who aren’t in the education services program. Such programs include the GI Bill.
National Guard members would still have to be in active status to qualify.
Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, was the lead sponsor. The Senate passed it unanimously.
The House passed it 97-2. Delegates Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, and George Miller, R-Morgan, voted no, while Evan Worrell, R-Cabell, was absent.
Senate Bill 335: Free community college fees, not just tuition — This bill, if Justice approves it, would say West Virginia’s free community college tuition program makes not just tuition free for students, but also all mandatory fees and academic program fees.
Many colleges make distinctions between tuition; fees charged to all students; and fees that students are only charged if they’re in a particular program, like fees for equipment for a nursing program.
The bill would also require all academic program fees charged atop tuition be approved by the statewide community college oversight and policy board, if colleges want that program to be part of the free tuition and fees program. The program is called West Virginia Invests.
“Our institutions didn’t begin adding these fees after the Invests program was created,” said Matt Turner, a top official for the statewide college oversight agencies. “Those fees were already in place as part of their overall cost of instruction.”
The Senate passed this bill unanimously, while the House passed it 95-3.
The nos were from Delegates Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer; Joe Jeffries, R-Putnam; and Shannon Kimes, R-Wood. Delegates Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, and Josh Booth, R-Wayne, were absent.
Senate Bill 636: Little effect, formerly required personal finance course — The House last week approved an amendment to this bill. The change would have required that public school students complete a personal finance course to graduate high school.
The amendment didn’t make it into the final version of the bill. The amendment said the personal finance requirement would’ve been “in place of existing economics coursework requirements.”
Also, the amendment would have required students to learn about the “treatment and contributions of historic minorities, including but not limited to African Americans, Native Americans and women.”
Current public school standards already generally require learning about personal finance. And several current standards on women and minorities include one in high school to “analyze the characteristics of cultural contributions of Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanics and all immigrants.”
The Senate rejected the amendment in a voice vote.
The House agreed to retract its amendment in a 58-37 vote, with five delegates absent. All 23 House Democrats voted against backing down, and 14 Republicans joined them.
The version the Legislature finally passed would, if Justice approves it, require public and private schools to learn about civics and government topics that, at least in public schools, they’re already required to learn.
House Bill 2791: Guaranteed private-, home-school student access to vocational schools — If Justice approves this bill, private- and home-schooled students would be guaranteed access to county school systems’ K-12 vocational schools, as long as “capacity allows.”
These non-public students also couldn’t be charged more than what public school students pay to attend these vocational schools, which is currently nothing.
The House passed this 96-2, with Delegates Dana Ferrell, R-Kanawha, and Charlie Reynolds, R-Marshall, voting no. Absent were Delegates Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha, and Kayla Young, D-Kanawha.
The Senate passed it unanimously.
House Bill 2906: Allowing more money for vocational centers, deaf, blind schools — The state School Building Authority currently grants construction and major renovation funding not just to county school systems, but to K-12 vocational schools that serve multiple counties and specialized schools that serve the whole state.
These include, among others, the Fred W. Eberle Technical Center in Buckhannon and the Schools for the Deaf and the Blind in Romney.
Ben Ashley, architectural services director for the School Building Authority, said that currently, the agency can give only up to 3% of its annual grants to these multi-county and statewide service area schools.
If Justice approves this bill, the agency could give up to 10%.
House Education Committee Vice Chairman Joshua Higginbotham, R-Putnam, was the lead sponsor of this.
The Senate passed it unanimously, and the House’s final passage vote was 90-10.
Voting no were Delegates Wayne Clark, R-Jefferson; Mark Dean, R-Mingo; Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer; Caleb Hanna, R-Nicholas; Joe Jeffries, R-Putnam; Shannon Kimes, R-Wood; Margitta Mazzocchi, R-Logan; Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock; George Miller, R-Morgan; and Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming.
Senate Bill 566: Can’t win grievances if state superintendent disagrees —This bill would have ended a school employee’s chance of winning a grievance if the state superintendent disagreed with the worker’s position.
These official grievances are an opportunity for public employees to win disputes against their employers without having to sue in court. The process can be faster and cheaper for workers than suing.
The Senate passed this 21-12, with Sen. David Stover, R-Wyoming, absent. All 11 Democratic senators voted no, joined by one Republican: Sen. Patrick Martin, R-Lewis.
The bill was then assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, which never advanced it.
Senate Bill 601: Grievance loser may have to pay other side’s legal costs — This would’ve made multiple changes to the official grievance process — not just for public school employees, but for all public workers who are allowed by law to file grievances.
Among the changes, this would’ve banned grievances over actions employers took “in accordance with executive orders issued by the governor related to declared states of preparedness or states of emergency.”
That would’ve banned grievances over Justice’s ongoing COVID-19 state of emergency orders.
Also under the bill, if either the employer or the employee won the grievance at its third and final level, the winning side could’ve asked the administrative law judge who oversaw the grievance hearing to order the loser to pay the winner’s legal costs.
That judge could’ve only forced this possibly hefty payment in cases where, as the bill put it, the loser “presented a grievance or defense which lacked any basis in fact or law, was not brought in good faith, or was brought with malice or wrongful purpose, including, but not limited to, delay or harassment.”
The Senate passed it 18-15, with all Democrats voting no and Sens. Amy Grady, R-Mason; Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur; Patrick Martin, R-Lewis; and David Stover, R-Wyoming, joining them. Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, was absent.
The bill was then assigned to the House Judiciary Committee, which never advanced it.
Senate Bill 610: Free tuition for VISTA, other AmeriCorps participants — This would have given free tuition to students who completed a certain amount of service hours in West Virginia as part of “an AmeriCorps State, National, VISTA or Senior Corps program.”
They would have earned one free semester of undergraduate or graduate tuition for providing 600 hours of service, and two free semesters for providing 1,200 hours.
Once enrolled, students could have continued providing service hours to continue getting free tuition, for a maximum allowed eight semesters of free tuition.
This program would’ve filled the gap between a student’s cost of attending college and the money provided by state and federal financial awards.
But the bill would’ve allowed college governing boards to “establish any limitations ... as they consider proper.”
Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, was the lead sponsor. The Senate passed it 32-1, with Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, the no vote and Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, absent.
The full House never held a vote on the bill.
House Bill 2364: Guns for teachers, principals — This would have allowed teachers and principals to bring concealed guns into public schools, if their county board of education approved it — or if the state homeland security secretary overruled the school board.
These “school protection officers” would have had to go through a training program designed by the state Department of Homeland Security. The program would’ve been similar to that for “public resource officers,” who are actual police officers.
Additionally, these educators would’ve had to take a minimum eight-hour, in-person “advanced firearms,” “tactical firearms skills” and “use of force” course from their county sheriff’s office. And the educator would have to “qualify” on a range with the gun they planned to carry, plus have a West Virginia concealed carry permit.
The schools where these gun-toting educators were located and these educators’ names would have been hidden from public records requests.
Delegate Doug Smith, R-Mercer, was the original bill’s lead sponsor. The House Education Committee passed this modified version, but the House Judiciary Committee never advanced it.
House Bill 2778: Tax write-off for private-, home-schooling — This would have allowed private- and home-schooling families to reduce the amount in state income taxes they must pay annually by up to $3,000 per child.
They would’ve been able to write off their taxes educational expenses — like tuition, tutoring and textbooks — up to that amount.
Families who will receive the currently estimated $4,600 per-student, per-year non-public school voucher from a separate bill that did pass would’ve still, if they had education expenses exceeding that amount, been allowed to take advantage of the tax reduction.
The House Education Committee passed this bill, but the House Finance Committee didn’t advance it.