CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The House of Delegates this past week refined and advanced its proposal for comprehensive education reform for West Virginia schools.
The House overwhelmingly passed on a bipartisan basis its alternative to Senate Bill 451 on Thursday, after more than a week of consideration, public hearings and extensive debate on the bill.
“We went line-by-line, point-by-point through this bill to work with all parties in order to build consensus and support for the House’s changes to this bill,” said House Education Committee Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison. “In the end, we drafted a product that was able to pass this House on a wide 71-29 margin.”
The bill significantly changed many provisions included in the original version that passed the Senate. It removed controversial elements such as the paycheck protection and non-severability clauses. It also removed the education savings accounts proposal from the bill.
The House version also converted the Senate’s proposal for unlimited charter schools to a pilot program that would allow two current, low-performing schools to convert into public charter schools if the local school boards, teachers and parents support the move. The House version also provides $5 million for school Innovation Zones, which are public schools that have more flexibility to provide education services.
Additionally, the bill provides significant increases in funding for the education system, including an average 5-percent pay raise for teachers and service personnel, a $2,000 incentive for teachers to become certified in math instruction, a $250 tax credit for teachers and service workers who purchase school supplies, and a $1,000 year-end bonus for teachers and service workers who miss less than four days of work in order to cut down on the need of substitutes.
The bill also changes the school aid formula to put a 1,400 floor on the number of students considered for funding purposes. This means 11 low-population counties – Pocahontas, Pendleton, Tucker, Gilmer, Webster, Richie, Calhoun, Tyler, Wirt, Pleasants and Doddridge counties – will instantly see an increase in funding to help cover their fixed costs of operating their school system.
The bill also allows for an additional $24 million in school funding to hire more counselors, nurses and other support personnel, as well as raises the amount of time counselors are required to spend with students, in order to help children struggling with mental health issues or problems stemming from a troubled home environment.
To boost safety, the bill now provides for one law enforcement officer to be placed in each school to protect and serve the students and staff.
“This bill will provide an additional $200 million to our schools, classrooms, teachers and other employees to improve the system as a whole,” Chairman Hamrick said. “This is a significant investment in our education system that will benefit every student, teacher, school worker and all connected to it.”
In addition to the direct state funding, the bill also allows county school boards to consider asking voters to increase the regular levy rate that funds schools on the county level. If the voters approve the levy increase, counties can use those funds to increase local pay or make other investments in their school system without having their state aid reduced.
“We believe in greater local control in our school system,” said Delegate Dianna Graves, R-Kanawha. “Giving voters the control over how their county school system is funded will provide greater flexibility at the local level for parents, teachers and students to have a say in how their local system operates rather than having it dictated to them by lawmakers and bureaucrats in Charleston.”
The bill now goes back to the state Senate to consider the House changes to their bill. The Senate can either concur, reject or amend the House version. If the two houses disagree on which version is best, the bill will go to a conference committee to negotiate a potential compromise.