Education bill

Education bill

Delegates and House staff argue Friday evening over one of the motions by Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, to try to kill the education overhaul bill.

The West Virginia Senate passed its education overhaul bill at the start of last week.

On Friday night, a House of Delegates committee advanced the legislation, but recommended significant changes.

The first edition of our Education Overhaul Bill Guide explained the version of the bill that was introduced in the Senate. Much has changed since.

This second edition explains the amended version the full Senate ultimately passed and compares the full Senate’s version to the House Education Committee’s “strike and insert” replacement version.

That strike and insert version is heading to the House Finance Committee, and, if it passes House Finance, it’ll go to the full House.

More changes can be made in Finance and in the full House, and the full House could entirely reject the strike and insert, revert to the Senate’s version, and then pass or reject that.

The House chamber in the Capitol has public hearings on the bill set for 8 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday.

If the House’s ultimate offering is different from the Senate’s iteration, the two sides will have to work out the differences to pass the bill.

Below, in alphabetical order, are the ways the two versions of the bill would affect students, parents and school workers:

Academic promotion

Both versions: A teacher’s recommendation on whether a student should move to the next grade level “shall be a primary consideration,” the bill would say.

Attendance

Senate: When a student currently gets five unexcused absences, the student and a parent or guardian must come to the school to talk within five days of receiving notice.

Current law provides for the “adjustment of unexcused absences” based upon that student-parent-school meeting.

The bill would nix the meeting requirement and cut the reference to absence adjustment.

At both three and five unexcused absences, the school system would have to “make meaningful contact” with the parent or guardian to figure out what’s causing the absences and how the school can help. The currently required seeking of the arrest of parents at 10 unexcused absences would remain.

House strike and insert: Same as the Senate version, but it keeps the ability for the principal, after the “meaningful contact” is made, to reduce the unexcused absences.

At-will employment of administrators

Both versions: “Central office administrators, supervisors, and directors ... shall serve at the will and pleasure of the [county] superintendent,” the bill would say, and they could be fired by the superintendent if the county board of education approves.

This wouldn’t affect current employees who stay in their current positions, but would affect new hires and those who change positions after July 1, 2020. “At-will” workers are generally less-protected than others.

Charter schools

Senate: An unlimited number of charter schools would be legalized in West Virginia.

State and federal education dollars would be taken from the existing public school system and given to charter schools for each student who transfers.

The bill allows online charter schools and those that are converted from existing public schools. County school board denials of these conversions could be appealed to a new, unelected state commission that could allow the conversion to proceed.

One part of the bill says, “A local county board or other public entity shall make facilities available to the charter school that are either not used in whole or in part for classroom instruction.” It also mandates that the lease for the charter school to use the facility “must be at or under current market value.”

Charter schools would be free from much of the regulations governing public schools, including those regulating who they can hire and fire, and for what reasons. The bill also doesn’t include any teacher certification requirements.

A charter school could enroll any student in the state, but wouldn’t be required to provide transportation. If there are more students applying to get in than spaces available, random lotteries would be used to determine placement.

Governing boards, which would be separate from county school boards and could be unelected, would lead charter schools, which could also hire private companies to run their operations.

House strike and insert: Only two charter schools would be allowed, and they’d have to be conversions of current public elementary schools. The county school board and a majority of the school’s employees and parents would have to approve the conversion.

There remains a section that could be used to argue a school board must approve a charter school conversion in circumstances where the charter application shows it’s “likely to improve student achievement.”

The charter school could enroll students from anywhere in the state but would have to enroll “all students who choose to attend and reside in the attendance [area] as it existed prior to conversion.”

Qualifying elementary schools would have to be “low performing,” though the bill doesn’t define that. They’d also have to be eligible for federal Title I funds, which generally go to high-poverty schools.

An earlier proposed version of the strike and insert had suggested limiting the schools to Kanawha and Cabell counties, and House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, had suggested Mary C. Snow West Side and Spring Hill elementaries as possible converters. But the geographic limitation was removed.

Class sizes

Both versions: A previously proposed maximum class size increase has been removed from both versions.

Counselors

Senate: Counselors would no longer be required to spend at least 75 percent of their work time “in a direct counseling relationship with pupils” and would no longer be barred from devoting more than the remaining quarter to “administrative activities.”

The law would be changed to instead say a counselor’s “main responsibility shall be providing direct counseling services to students.” The minimum time a counselor has to spend actually directly counseling for it to be a “main responsibility” wouldn’t be specified.

House strike and insert: Counselors would have to increase their time spent in a direct counseling relationship with pupils to at least 80 percent of their work time, up from current law’s 75 percent requirement.

Differential pay

Both versions: County school boards would be freed to pay teachers in “critically needed” or hard-to-fill subjects and geographic areas more than other teachers.

The bill would also remove a statewide pay equalizing provision that keeps some counties’ pay from greatly exceeding the pay in other counties. Currently, counties can differ to a limited extent.

Regarding the state minimum salary schedules, teachers who primarily work as certified math teachers would be considered to have three extra years of experience on the salary schedule, which generally provides annual automatic pay bumps based on years of service.

The bill also provides for one-time, $2,000 stipends, if funds are available, if math teachers complete yet-undetermined courses.

Education savings accounts (private-, home-school vouchers)

Senate: Parents could receive $3,200 annually per child for them to receive tutoring or be private-, online- or home-schooled, or some combination. They could also save the money up for college.

No more than 2,500 students at any one time could have these “education savings accounts.”

Banned from the program would be full-time public schoolers and students whose household income is over $150,000 annually. The money could be used for religious schooling.

House strike and insert: This provision was removed.

Funding

Senate: County school boards could ask voters for approval to increase their regular levy property tax rates to a maximum set in the bill, much like voters can currently approve increasing school excess levy property tax rates.

School boards currently can’t raise their regular levy rates at all because the Legislature sets them at the same rate statewide.

The state Department of Education estimates counties could raise $100 million more for their school systems next school year if they all raised their regular levy rates to the new maximum allowed.

The bill would also say that if a county’s “local share” of taxes it can raise to fund its school system grows higher than it was in the 2015-16 fiscal year, the 2015-16 “local share” level would still apply.

That means counties with growing property values wouldn’t see the state school aid funding formula reduce their state funding, which the formula currently reduces as local share increases under the argument growing counties can better afford to locally fund their schools.

The education department currently estimates this will provide an additional $25 million annually.

County school systems’ “allowance for current expense” would increase by 1 percentage point of another calculation. The education department estimates this will provide $2 million more annually for operations and maintenance.

Counties with fewer than 1,400 public school students would also nevertheless be given per-pupil funding for 1,400 kids, but only for the “basic foundation program” section of the state aid formula.

Current law does fund these counties for students they don’t have, but it’s based on a calculation that compares how far counties are below 1,400 to how densely populated they are compared to the state’s most sparsely populated county.

The education department said this will cost $11 million more annually, not counting other changes, like pay increases for school employees possibly hired with this money, that could increase the cost further.

Unknown is the possible statewide impact of public schoolers moving to charter schools, private schools and homeschooling due to other provisions in the bill. The state aid formula generally drops funding when enrollment drops.

House strike and insert: Same as the Senate version, though the possible funding transferred to charter schools and non-public education is less because those alternatives are greatly curtailed in the strike and insert.

Also, the strike and insert provides at least $5 million for Innovation Zones, a program meant to encourage innovation in public schools.

Read the student support personnel section below for information on extra funding for positions like nurses and social workers. Also, read the raises section.

Innovation Zones

See: Funding

Layoffs

See: Seniority

Leave

Senate: School workers would build up earned sick days for each month they work, rather than receiving their yearly amount to use up front each year.

Teachers would get a $500 bonus at the end of each school year for those who are absent for no more than four days.

House strike and insert: School workers would get half of their sick days at the beginning of their employment term each year and the other half halfway through the term.

The $500 yearly bonus would be for all full-time school workers who don’t use more than four leave days.

Levies

See: Funding

Math teachers

See: Differential pay

Nurses

See: Student support personnel

Open enrollment

Senate: Students would be able to attend public schools in counties they don’t live in if the receiving county’s school board approves, regardless of how the school board of the county losing the student feels.

House strike and insert: Same as Senate, but says nothing precludes sports eligibility rules set by the state Secondary Schools Activities Commission.

Paycheck protection

See: Union dues

Psychologists

See: Student support personnel

Raises (for employees generally)

Both versions: School employees would see the raises Republican leaders promised before the November elections. The raises are $2,120 for each teacher, for example.

Sick days (for school workers)

See: Leave

Social workers

See: Student support personnel

Seniority

Senate: County school boards could choose to downplay the role that years of experience play in choosing which workers to lay off and whether to transfer laid off employees into other jobs.

House strike and insert: Same as the Senate, but with an added line that says the school board must first “consider” employees “whose past performance evaluation ... is less than satisfactory.” The impact of this on layoffs and transfers is unclear.

Severability

Senate: Opponents of parts of the bill, even if they succeed in overturning parts of the legislation in court after passage, could then see much, or all, of the bill rendered invalid by its “non-severability” clause.

Raises and other things partial opponents may want to keep could be rescinded.

House strike and insert: This clause was removed.

Split-grade classrooms

Both versions: A previously proposed lifting of the ban on counties having more multiple-grade-level classrooms than they had in 1983 has been removed.

Strikes

Senate: Teachers who don’t teach for all the days in their annual contracts due to a strike would see pay for those days withheld, even if a county superintendent officially closes schools because of the work stoppage. Superintendents last year officially closed schools statewide for each of the nine school days of the strike.

Also, the bill would say schools can’t take part in extracurricular activities on canceled instructional days.

House strike and insert: These provisions were removed.

Student support personnel

Both versions: “Professional student support personnel” would be redefined to include not just counselors and nurses, but also those “providing direct social and emotional support services to students, including but not limited to, social workers and psychologists.”

The state would provide $24 million more annually for such workers, adding an estimated 390 statewide.

Supplies

Senate: Public and private school teachers would get $250 nonrefundable income tax credits to buy supplies or pay for training.

House strike and insert: Same as the Senate version, but teachers and school service personnel would benefit, and training expenses wouldn’t be eligible.

The expenses that would qualify for this tax credit would still be limited to educational expenses and expenses on “cocurricular activities” — many “service personnel,” such as aides, nonetheless help with instruction.

Taxes

See: Funding

Tax credits

See: Supplies

Transfers (students)

See: Open enrollment

Transfers (teachers)

See: Seniority

Union dues

Senate: School employees would be required to annually re-agree to have part of their paychecks withheld to pay union dues.

Supporters of this provision sometimes call it “paycheck protection,” and detractors call it “paycheck deception.”

West Virginia doesn’t require public school workers to be union members.

House strike and insert: This provision is removed.

Vouchers

See: Education savings accounts

Reach Ryan Quinn at

ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com,

facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

Education Reporter