By Ryan Quinn, Charleston Gazette-Mail
Lawmakers have passed several far-reaching laws affecting prekindergarten-12th grade education over the past four years, and tried — but failed — to pass other significant legislation.
Half of the seats in the state Senate, and all House of Delegates seats, are up for grabs in Tuesday’s election. Senate terms are for four years, and delegate terms are for two years.
Teachers, bus drivers and others chanted “Remember in November” during the historic statewide public school workers strike earlier this year, and discussion since has revolved around how much those workers would affect the election.
Strikers didn’t just express concerns over health insurance benefits and pay, but over bills they opposed, like a failed one that would’ve reduced the role of seniority in layoffs and transfers.
Setting aside spending bills and the pay raise and health insurance funding bills that animated much of this year’s session, here are five pieces of education legislation that were significant to students and/or significant to union members who may sway the election:
House Bill 2711: This was Gov. Jim Justice’s signature education legislation in his first year in office. It passed 69-31 in the House and 28-6 in the Senate in 2017.
It ended Smarter Balanced standardized tests; the Regional Education Service Agencies, which served multiple county school systems through shared services; and the Office of Education Performance Audits, which did onsite walkthroughs and reviews of schools on things like the teaching of statewide education standards, student safety and principal leadership.
It also banned the K-12 Common Core math and English language arts standards themselves, although several West Virginia education officials said they didn’t believe HB 2711 actually would require the state school board to change its current education standards. Although revised, those standards remain largely identical to the Common Core national standards blueprint.
The bill also gave counties the right to make up entire missed school days with extra instructional minutes they had built up by having longer school days than the state minimum requires.
It also required the high school standardized test to be a college entrance exam. The state Board of Education has picked the SAT.
Senate Bill 186: This delayed the right to free prekindergarten for students without special needs. It passed 74-26 in the House and 32-2 in the Senate in 2017.
West Virginia has offered free prekindergarten to all 4-year-olds. The state also offers it to all 3-year-olds with special needs.
The new law meant free early education programs only had to be offered to all children who are 4 years old by July 1 of the school year in which their families planned to enroll them. Previously, they had the right to free preschool as long as they turned 4 years old by Sept. 1 of the school year in which their families planned to enroll them.
Provisional data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Vital Statistics System has shown that July, August and September are West Virginia’s top three months for births.
The law also states that, starting next school year, counties have to offer kindergarten to all children who hit 5 years old by July 1 of the school year in which their families plan to enroll them; they previously could hit 5 by Sept. 1 and still qualify. Also, children who hit 6 years old by July 1 of a school year must enroll in kindergarten; they previously had to enter kindergarten if they turned 6 anytime before Sept. 1 of that school year.
Home-schooled and private-schooled students can still be exempt from public school attendance.
House Bill 4175: This eliminated annual assessment reporting for home-schooled students, whether they submit tests or portfolios. It passed 26-6 with two absent in the Senate and 94-4 with two absent in the House in 2016.
It also allowed parents, if their chosen test vendors allow it, to administer their kids’ tests. It also eliminated the requirement for teachers who review home schoolers’ portfolios to submit teacher certification numbers.
It also lowered the threshold home schoolers must pass on tests to achieve “acceptable progress,” required that county schools superintendents show probable cause before seeking court orders denying home schooling and removed the annual requirement that parents notify their local superintendent or county board of education of their intent to home school.
It also changed the requirement to just a one-time intent notification, unless the home-schooling provider moves to another county, and it let parents provide the notification as late as the first day home schooling is to start.
The law also limited the required reporting of assessment results to the county superintendent to only “at grade levels three, five, eight and eleven.” It also eliminated the requirement for parents to provide a child’s grade level in their notice of intent to home school.
On “nationally normed” tests, which many home schoolers use instead of the regular state standardized tests, the law also said “acceptable progress” could be satisfied by a student scoring, with the average of their test results in all required subjects, within or above the fourth stanine nationally. That meant 77 percent of students nationally can score above them and they’d still make acceptable progress — a change from the previous law, which allowed only half of students nationally to score above them.
A retired state Department of Education official said that if a home schooler scores below the fourth stanine, he or she previously still could show acceptable progress by showing any improvement from the previous year’s results. But because the new law no longer required annual reporting, she said counties wouldn’t be able to gauge acceptable progress.
Senate Bill 401: This would have removed the statewide mandate that public school teachers with the least amount of seniority automatically lose their positions when job cuts are made in a particular teaching area. It passed 25-8 with one absent in the Senate and failed 14-7 with four absent in the House Education Committee in 2017, so it never made it to the full House.
Seniority is basically defined in law as years of experience.
SB 401 said the least qualified, as defined by county school board policy, would be the first to go when cuts occur.
The bill also said school-board-determined qualifications — not merely seniority and type of teaching certification — would be used to determine whether an employee who loses their position could take the position of another employee in the usual “transfer,” or “bumping,” process. School boards wouldn’t be required to consider seniority at all in the process.
The bill would’ve maintained the requirement that a teacher displaced by position cuts and wanting another position must be certified to teach in the job they are bumping someone else out of.
But SB 401 would’ve cut the mandate that a higher level of seniority would be the only other requirement to bump the other employee out of a job. It instead would’ve generically required that the employee have higher qualifications than their colleague to bump them — and the school board-set policy would dictate what those qualifications are.
The legislation would have applied to all “professional personnel,” including principals.
SB 401 also would’ve crossed out current law’s reference to the “random selection system” impacting employees with identical seniority. That provision has been the basis for events in Kanawha County in recent years when teachers hired on the same date had to draw pieces of paper and lottery-type balls to determine who would be deemed to have the least seniority and thus the most risk of losing their jobs.
Senate Bill 14: This would have allowed the Mountain State’s first charter schools. It passed 18-16 in the Senate and passed out of two House committees in 2015, but the full House didn’t vote on it.
These publicly funded charter schools would’ve been given freedom from state laws and state board policies over key decisions, including those concerning finance, personnel, scheduling, curriculum and instruction. Charter schools would’ve also been allowed to choose whether their employees could file grievances before the state Public Employees Grievance Board.
County school boards would’ve decided whether to approve charters after a 30-day public comment period and a public hearing. The state board would’ve been required to hear appeals from those who apply to create charters and are denied, but could not override a denial.