With less than a week left in this year’s regular legislative session, the West Virginia Senate has pushed a Bible classes bill closer to passage while sending a weakened “Tim Tebow” bill to the governor for his signature or veto.
The Senate also passed a bill benefiting non-native-English speaking students.
Here’s what happened on these education bills Monday:
House Bill 4780
While it hasn’t yet passed it, the Senate fast-tracked this, which says county school systems may offer Bible classes in their high schools.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, didn’t assign the bill to any Senate committee.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, moved that the bill have its first reading immediately Monday, allowing it to reach amendment stage on the full Senate floor today. No senator objected.
This means the bill could possibly pass the full Senate by Wednesday and head to Gov. Jim Justice.
But if senators amend it, there could be back-and-forth negotiations between the House and Senate over whether delegates will accept or reject senators’ changes.
Senators took up a nearly identical bill earlier this session, but they amended it to remove references to the Bible.
Instead, the Senate’s amended version — which the House hasn’t taken up — said counties may offer “an elective social studies course on sacred texts or comparative world religions.”
Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier and a pastor, said he plans to offer the same Senate amendment Tuesday.
Baldwin noted that the Senate version of the bill passed unanimously last week, “so if they’ve changed their minds, I would like to know why.”
He said he believes this can be done well to promote religious literacy, “but you’ve got to do it carefully in a way that doesn’t discriminate or alienate one faith or another or pit one faith against another.”
House Bill 3127
The Senate voted 32-1 to pass this, which would allow home-schooled students to participate in the vast majority of public school sports and bands, if they take one online public school course.
This is often called a “Tim Tebow” bill, after the University of Florida quarterback who got to play public school sports despite being home-schooled.
Senate Majority Whip Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, was the lone no vote Monday. Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, was absent.
The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission regulates football, basketball, baseball, soccer, cross country and other sports and band for public, and some private, middle and high schools.
SSAC Executive Director Bernie Dolan said home-schoolers may currently participate in the sports and band of the public school their address is zoned for, if they take four online courses and are vaccinated, as public school students are.
While the bill would lower that requirement to one online class, it would keep the vaccination requirement and require home-schoolers to submit their scores on tests of their choosing.
On Feb. 11, the Senate passed a version of this bill that would go further by allowing non-SSAC member private school students to participate if they don’t have band or that sport at their own school. However, the House hasn’t taken it up.
Sen. Rollan Roberts, R-Raleigh and administrator of a private school, said Monday that, “although this is quite different from our Senate bill, I would urge the passage of this bill.”
Weld said he voted no because "when the Senate discussed our version of the bill earlier in the session, I stated that my reason for supporting it was because it allowed for a private school student to play a sport at the public high school in their county that wasn’t available to them at their school -- and pointed to my own high school experience as the basis for that.
"I was disappointed that the House version does not allow for the children of all tax payers to benefit, and my vote was an expression of that."
House Bill 4365
The Senate passed this bill, which would say West Virginia public colleges may count English learned as a second language for college credit, including counting it as satisfying the foreign language requirement.
The vote was 33-0, with only Mann absent. The House passed it 95-0 in January.
This is essentially the reverse of a native English speaker having to learn a foreign language to satisfy the foreign language requirement.
To earn the credit, students would have to reach “a satisfactory score on the test of English as a foreign language,” the bill says.
It would leave it up to the state higher education oversight agencies to propose what score should be considered satisfactory.