This week, the state Senate Education Committee advanced legislation to eliminate the state Department of Education and the Arts and its secretary’s position (HB 4006), among several other bills.
During meetings Tuesday and Wednesday, the committee also advanced bills to put more control over textbook choice in counties’ hands (HB 3089); and allow employees and board of governors members of out-of-state colleges to be appointed to boards of governors of in-state public colleges (HB 4251).
Around 11 p.m., near the end of the final meeting Tuesday, the committee voted most of those bills to the full Senate with the recommendation that they pass. HB 4407 originally advanced, but later failed.
Senate Education Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, wasn’t present for the meetings, so committee Vice Chairman Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, led them.
HB 4006 would transfer the department’s Center for Professional Development to the state Department of Education, a separate, primarily prekindergarten through 12th grade-centered entity. The bill would make the Department of Education and the Arts’ Educational Broadcasting Authority and State Library Commission “separate independent agencies within the executive branch.” The department’s Division of Culture and History and its Division of Rehabilitation Services would be moved to the Department of Commerce.
The state’s current secretary of education and the arts is Gayle Manchin, wife of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who’s running for re-election this year.
Opponents of HB 4006 in the House of Delegates noted it doesn’t mention other programs and agencies under or supported by the department. Those include Energy Express (a child feeding and education program), the Governor’s Schools (“residential summer sessions for academically and/or artistically talented students,” per the department’s website), Imagination Library (gives children free books), Special Olympics and Volunteer West Virginia (a volunteer and community service organization).
House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, has said he doesn’t think such programs are mentioned in state law now and he doesn’t believe the bill will affect them.
“You’re risking Energy Express, for what? For what good purpose?” Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said Tuesday. “I promise you this: If something happens to Energy Express, I won’t forget it ... the Lord that you all claim to pray to so much, he’s not going to forget it either if you let those kids go hungry.”
Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said she was concerned about the number of employees the department has.
“I do believe that we do need to find more efficiencies and we need to find ways to save money so that money goes to our classrooms, to our educators,” Rucker said. “And I’m assured that all of the programs that the Department of the Education and the Arts is doing will be able to continue.”
Sens. Azinger, Cline, Karnes, Rucker and Trump, all Republicans, voted to pass the bill out of the committee, while Sens. Romano and Stollings, both Democrats, and Sens. Drennan and Swope, both Republicans, voted no. Democratic Sens. Beach, Plymale and Unger were absent.
The committee voted down HB 4407 in a 6-6 vote Wednesday evening, with Sens. Azinger, Boley, Cline, Swope, Trump and Karnes for, and Sens. Beach, Plymale, Romano, Rucker, Stollings and Unger against.
Rucker, R-Jefferson, was only one to break with party. Drennan, R-Putnam and Mann, R-Monroe, both were absent.
HB 4407, which the House passed 50-48 on Feb. 13, would erase the requirement that those wanting to become teachers through alternative certification must already have an “academic major or occupational area the same as or similar to the subject matter” they wish to teach.
State law and policy now allow county boards of education to create alternative teacher certification programs to let people who don’t have teaching degrees become public school teachers. Certain decisions are left to counties, but the state requires that alternative certification applicants have a related academic major or occupation and that such people can only be hired in “areas of critical need and shortage.”
Michele Blatt, an assistant state schools superintendent, said such shortage areas are positions that counties have posted twice without getting any successful applicants.
HB 4407 would not touch the statewide requirement for at least a bachelor’s degree from a regionally accredited college, and would still require any alternative certification applicant to “pass the same basic skills and subject matter test or tests required by the state board for traditional program candidates to become certified in the area for which he or she is seeking licensure.”
Trump said he didn’t move to add HB 4407 to Wednesday’s agenda because the statewide public school employees strike ended Wednesday. For the first time in more than a week, no one was protesting outside the Senate or House chamber doors as of late Wednesday morning.
“I think it’s strategic,” Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association union, said of the timing of the bill appearing in the committee. “They want to throw a last dig at us.”
Lee said his union remains against the bill, and said it was “just an attempt to further reduce the qualifications for a teacher.”
‘“It’s a serious proposal,” Trump said of the bill. “We’ve heard many times from the leaders of the teacher organizations around the Capitol about how acute the vacancy problem is, and so I think this is worthy of consideration to see if it can help with that.”
Lee said that with the 5 percent raises approved Tuesday, “we’re beginning to make an investment in our teachers and service professionals,” and, if that investment continues, the state will reach a point where it’s “competitive with the surrounding states, and I believe the quality of life is such in West Virginia that people will want to stay here.”
Trump successfully amended the bill Wednesday to add more requirements but the bill still failed.
HB 3089, the textbook choice flexibility bill, was approved by the Senate Education Commission with no discussion. It would add a new section to state law that says the “purpose of this section is to provide for a transition to the county board (of education) level of the process for review and adoption of instructional resources required to be used in the schools under the jurisdiction of the county board.”
It defines “instructional resources” as “print materials, electronic resources and systems, or combinations of such instructional resources which convey information to a student that covers no less than 80 percent (of) the required content and skills approved by the state board for subjects taught in the public schools of the state.”
Existing state requirements, plus requirements in the bill, include that textbooks must meet 100 percent of “non-negotiable evaluation criteria,” like texts being “free of political bias.” Instructional materials must also meet 80 percent of general and specific criteria, the latter consisting of the actual content standards for subjects.
The state now facilitates a review process and assembles a “multiple list” of instructional materials; counties must choose their primary resources from that list.
Deputy State Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch has said that, under the bill, educators would still be expected to instruct students to meet all standards, even if a primary instructional resource might cover only 80 percent of them.
Bluefield State College supports HB 4251, the bill that would allow employees and board of governors members of out-of-state colleges to be appointed to the boards of governors of in-state public colleges.
Kimberly Gross, Bluefield’s communications director/assistant to the president, has said a potential board member was deemed ineligible. Gross said the ineligible candidate, a Bluefield State graduate, “would be a wonderful compliment to those who are current members.”
The biography of the candidate she described matched the online LinkedIn profile of Jesse Calloway, the retired vice president and general manager of processing and manufacturing for the tobacco company Philip Morris USA and an adjunct professor at Virginia’s Old Dominion University.