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Education legislation: What passed and what didn't during session

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By Ryan Quinn, Charleston Gazette-Mail

Saturday marked the end of this year’s regular legislative session, much of which focused on education.

That was mostly because of the education overhaul bill (Senate Bill 451), in which Republican leaders bundled their promised public school worker pay raises with many other things, including legalizing charter schools and funding about 400 more student support personnel, like social workers and psychologists.

The House of Delegates rejected the bill Feb. 19 after delegates tried to compromise with the Senate on numerous changes and school workers held a statewide strike against the Senate’s last amended version. Portions of that bill could re-emerge in the education- and pay raise-special session announced by Gov. Jim Justice.

 

The Senate Judiciary Committee rejected Tuesday another lightning rod bill: House Bill 2519, which would have allowed people to have concealed guns on college campuses.

The Legislature did manage to pass the free community college tuition bill (SB 1), which is awaiting Justice’s signature or veto.

Here’s what happened to the other education bills this year that the Gazette-Mail reported on:

Passed

Ending statewide higher education master plan — The statewide master plan for public higher education would be eliminated, generally weakening the state higher education oversight agencies’ power to oversee colleges, if the governor signs SB 673.

The Senate refused Friday to agree to the House’s Wednesday amendment, which would’ve expanded the bill to exempt Fairmont State and Shepherd universities from more state Higher Education Policy Commission oversight than the bill would exempt other four-year public colleges from.

The House backed down from its amendment Saturday and passed the bill 84-14, sending it to Justice for his signature or veto. Delegates Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, and Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, were absent.

ACT choice for counties — The state Board of Education would be required to allow county boards of education to use tests other than the SAT as their standardized test for 11th graders, if the governor signs SB 624.

The legislation lists the ACT, and no other tests, as an example of what the alternative could be. The ACT lost a bid against the SAT to become West Virginia’s default high school statewide standardized test.

The Senate amended the bill and passed it back to the House Friday, with only Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, voting no.

The House agreed to the Senate’s changes and voted Saturday to send the bill to Justice. Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, was the only no vote, and Ellington and Rohrbach were absent.

College bid dodging — Public colleges and universities could circumvent bidding rules to receive “financial services” by using their foundations, if the governor signs HB 3020.

The version the House passed would’ve allowed public colleges and universities to use their foundations to skirt bidding requirements for “materials, goods, equipment, services, printing, facilities, or financial services, including, but not limited to, a lease purchase or a direct issue of special revenue bonds.”

The Senate amended the bill to restrict the bidding exemption to just be for financial services, and voted Saturday to send it back to the House. Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, was the only no vote.

The House agreed to the Senate’s amendment and passed the bill 94-5Saturday, with Delegate Roy Cooper, R-Summers, absent.

School bus cameras — All school buses that county school boards buy, starting July 1, would be required to have forward- and rear-facing cameras, if the governor signs Senate Bill 238.

The state Department of Education has estimated this will cost the state about $830,000 per year. It estimated the cost to school boards as zero.

The bill also would increase the driver’s license suspension times and the minimum and maximum fines for illegally passing school buses.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously Feb. 25.

The House passed it Thursday, with only Delegate Pat McGeehan, R-Hancock, voting no. Nine delegates were absent.

Celebrate Freedom Week — Public and private school students would no longer have to study America’s founding documents during the week of Sept. 11, if the governor signs House Bill 2422.

In 2017, the Legislature passed House Bill 3080, creating “Celebrate Freedom Week” and requiring it to be during that week.

“The purpose of Celebrate Freedom Week is to educate students about the sacrifices made for freedom in the founding of this country and the values on which this country was founded,” the law says now.

This year’s bill would let individual county school boards instead pick when Celebrate Freedom Week occurs, and it would add the Emancipation Proclamation to the Declaration of Independence and Constitution as the specific documents that must be studied that week.

The House passed the bill 98-0 Jan. 24, and the Senate passed it 33-0 Friday. Sen. Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, was absent.

Opening 529 plans to fund private K-12 school tuition — Taxpayers could invest in Smart529 college savings accounts to pay for tuition at private K-12 schools, including religious ones, if the governor signs Senate Bill 670.

The House passed the bill Friday, with only Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, voting no. Absent were Delegates Mark Dean, R-Mingo, and Sharon Lewis Malcolm, R-Kanawha.

The Senate passed it unanimously Feb. 26.

Assistant State Treasurer Josh Stowers said he believes the federal tax overhaul allowed states to add this flexibility, but did not mandate them to do so.

529 plans allow people to save money tax deferred, so they don’t have to pay taxes on that money at all as long as it’s used for qualified expenses, which under this bill would only be tuition for the private K-12 schools.

Tazuer Smith, deputy treasurer for college savings, said taxpayers could, for each child, get an up to $10,000 annual deduction on their taxable income for state income tax purposes for money spent on private school tuition.

School shooting response, safety training — Students and all school employees would have to annually receive active shooter training and first aid training, if the governor signs House Bill 2541.

Schools would also have to have room numbers on exterior walls or windows so police and first responders could identify rooms with exterior walls. And county school systems would have to provide first responders and local police updated school floor plans by Sept. 1 of each year.

The Senate passed the bill 33-0 Friday, with only Mann absent. The House agreed to the Senate’s amendments 97-0 Friday, with Delegates Cooper, Dean and Malcolm absent.

Anti-hazing — People could be convicted of hazing for endangering others or causing them to destroy or steal property in order to join or stay part of “any organization whose members include” college students, if the governor signs Senate Bill 440.

The current anti-hazing law only targets initiation and membership requirements for college-recognized or college-sanctioned organizations.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously Feb. 12. The House passed it 75-22Feb. 28, with Delegates Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha, Tim Miley, D-Harrison, and Eric Porterfield, R-Mercer, absent.

Hazing would continue to be a misdemeanor, carrying a fine of $100-$1,000 or up to nine months in jail, or both.

Concussions — Public middle and high schools that don’t follow state rules for dealing with sports-related concussions will be subject to discipline rules created by the Secondary School Activities Commission, if the governor signs Senate Bill 605.

The rules must have the state Board of Education sign off.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously Feb. 27, and the House passed it unanimously Friday.

Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, is the bill’s lead sponsor.

She said the SSAC has some disciplinary rules currently, but they “really didn’t have any teeth at all.” But lawmakers didn’t specify in the bill what kind of discipline the SSAC must take against various infractions.

Bernie Dolan disagreed that the current rules don’t have teeth. In his four years as executive director of the SSAC, he said he hasn’t heard of any violations of the concussion protocol and has never had to use the discipline.

‘Mastery-based’ education — There would be a new “mastery-based” category of Innovation in Education schools, if the governor signs House Bill 2009.

Schools could apply to use the mastery-based model.

Mastery-based would be defined to include several “core principles,” including “student advancement upon mastery of a concept or skill” and “differentiated support based on a student’s individual learning needs.”

Students in these schools essentially would progress to further classes based not on time, but on showing mastery in a lesson.

The House passed the bill 95-0 Jan. 25, and the Senate, after backing down from its amendments, passed it 21-12.

Special education cameras — Public school special education classrooms would be required to have video cameras, if the governor signs Senate Bill 632.

The House passed the bill 87-9 Friday, with four delegates absent, after delegates amended it Thursday to only require the cameras if the Legislature provides funding and to remove from the bill parents’ specific right in the legislation to see videos involving their children.

The Senate refused Saturday to agree with removing that right. It amended the right back in and voted 30-4 Saturday to send the bill back to the House. The House accepted the Senate’s return of parental viewing rights to the bill, and passed the bill 91-2, with seven delegates absent.

The education department estimated the statewide cost at $7 million, and delegates said $3.5 million had been provided through the budget bill the House and Senate agreed to Friday.

The Senate version says parents and guardians of students involved in alleged incidents like bullying, abuse and neglect could view the videos. Incidents would be defined as suspicions raised by parents, guardians, teachers or aides.

Failed

‘Clean’ pay raise — Public school workers would have received raises had House Bill 2730 passed.

Hours after the House killed the education overhaul bill, Justice urged lawmakers to pass this bill, which included the raises that were in the overhaul bill but none of the other provisions. Most Senate Republicans blocked it from being passed.

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