The WV education bills that did, didn’t pass this session | Legislative Session

Fatima Fokina

The West Virginia Legislature’s annual regular legislative session ended Saturday night.

Lawmakers considered multiple education bills this year, and only the stroke of midnight revealed which ones had passed or failed. Here’s what happened to some the Gazette-Mail had been following:

Passed, awaiting governor’s approval or veto

Senate Bill 228: Free tuition for AmeriCorps participants — This would give free tuition to students who complete a certain amount of service hours in West Virginia as part of “an AmeriCorps State, National, VISTA or Senior Corps program.”

They would earn one free semester of undergraduate or graduate tuition for providing 600 hours of service, and two free semesters for providing 1,200 hours.

Once enrolled, students could continue providing service hours to continue getting free tuition, for a maximum allowed eight semesters of free tuition.

This program would fill the gap between a student’s cost of attending college and the money provided by state and federal financial awards.

But the bill would allow college governing boards to “establish any limitations … as they consider proper.”

The Senate passed this 31-1, with Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, the lone no vote and Sens. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, and Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, absent.

The House passed it 92-0 with eight delegates absent.

Senate Bill 246: Water bottle filling stations — This would require water bottle filling stations in every new public school.

Schools would have to have at least one filling station per 200 occupants, one per floor, one per wing, one per food service area and “one near gymnasiums and outdoor learning and activity areas, including playgrounds and athletic facilities.”

The filling stations would have to provide filtered water and be touchless. They could be integrated into water fountains.

Also, if a school underwent a “major improvement,” the bill would require replacing or retrofitting at least half of the water coolers — which cool water at drinking fountains — to accommodate bottle filling.

The bill defines a “major improvement” as increasing square footage by more than 5,000 square feet or renovations “with a cost greater than $500,000 where plumbing work constitutes more than 20% of the project’s construction cost.”

The House passed it 83-10 Friday with seven delegates absent. The Senate then accepted the House’s changes Saturday, and passed it 33-0 with Sen. Robert Plymale, R-Wayne, absent.

Senate Bill 268: ‘Microschools’ and ‘learning pods’ — This would put into law “microschools” and “learning pods” of unlimited size. 

These would be sparsely regulated schools or groups of students that could combine concepts from homeschooling, private schooling and online schooling.

A learning pod would be defined as “a voluntary association of parents choosing to group their children together” for a prekindergarten-12th grade school as an alternative to other schooling.

A microschool would be defined as “a school initiated by one or more teachers or an entity created to operate a school that charges tuition.”

Public dollars will be able to go toward these pods and microschools if the 2021 non-public school vouchers law survives a current legal challenge.

The vouchers program, called the Hope Scholarship, provides families public money for every child they remove from public schools. Families can then use this money on a nearly unlimited range of public school alternatives, including traditional private schooling, traditional homeschooling, online schooling and these pods or microschools.

The House passed the bill 56-41 Friday with three delegates absent, after the House earlier removed the Senate’s 100-student enrollment cap for each pod or microschool. The Senate accepted that change minutes before the end of the session Saturday, and passed the bill 20-12.

All nine present Democrats voted no, joined by Republican Sens. Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha; Charles Trump, R-Morgan; and Ryan Weld, R-Brooke.

HB 4008: College degree offering freedom — This would give every college or university exclusive rights to start offering new four-year degrees on their campuses, as long as the upcoming college funding formula incentivizes those degrees.

Counsel for the state’s higher education oversight agencies interprets the bill to not extend this freedom to community colleges, according to a spokeswoman for the agencies.

It also adds and alters provisions about the planned formula.

The formula would award colleges money based on certain outcomes. It includes a “premium multiplier to prioritized workforce needs of West Virginia.”

Currently, the state’s smaller colleges generally must get approval from the higher education oversight agencies to offer new programs.

This regulation can prevent duplicate offerings between two publicly funded colleges that are relatively close to each other.

The state’s larger colleges are generally already exempt from this academic program approval process.

The bill stipulates this new freedom would only be granted to schools whose state appropriations equal less than 40% of their operating expenses for three years in a row.

According to calculations the oversight agencies provided, that currently means every public four-year college or university. But the bill doesn’t specify whether the three-consecutive-year count means the past three fiscal years, or only years starting after the legislation passes.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, had tried to provide colleges a similar freedom through a separate bill this year that didn’t pass.

The Senate passed this bill unanimously Friday. The House then agreed to the Senate’s amendment — which added this freedom into it — and then passed the bill Saturday 97-1.

Delegate Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming, was the lone no vote, while Delegates Amy Summers, R-Taylor, and Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia, were absent.

House Bill 4571: Electric bus incentive — This would provide a financial incentive for county school systems to buy buses that are built in West Virginia or that are fully powered by electricity stored in an onboard battery or other device.

GreenPower Motor Co. plans to open an electric school bus factory in South Charleston. The state separately approved up to $3.5 million in incentive payments to that company if it can create 900 jobs.

The Senate passed this 32-0, with Sens. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, and Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, absent.

The House passed it 91-5, with four delegates absent.

House Bill 4600: Special protections for kids with disabilities — This would establish specific penalties for mistreating children with mental or physical disabilities; failing to report mistreatment of a child with disabilities; impeding someone from reporting such mistreatment; or retaliating against someone who reports such mistreatment.

It would also require the state departments of Education and Health and Human Resources to complete several studies, including one on a possible “program for public schools and government operated programs” allowing parents to remotely view classrooms and other areas where children with disabilities are taught, housed or cared for. It would also create a database identifying “school employees who are under active investigation for misconduct towards children.”

The Senate passed this significantly amended version 33-0 Saturday, with Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, absent. The House then passed it 97-0, with three delegates absent.

House Bill 4642: Contracts benefiting county officials — This would allow county commissioners, county officials, county school system leaders, principals and teachers to have financial interests in goods or supplies contracts they may influence or control.

Current law bans the following public officials and employees from having direct or indirect financial interests in contracts they “may have any voice, influence or control” over: county commissioners, county officers, county board of education members, members of any other county or district boards, schools superintendents, “district school officers,” principals and teachers.

The House’s original version of the bill would have made that legal if the contract was for “goods or supplies when the contract has been put out for competitive bid and the contract is awarded based upon lowest cost.”

The Senate added a requirement that employees must have a written advisory opinion from the state Ethics Commission giving the OK. Also, the Senate required those who are “in a voting or other decision-making position as to the contract” to recuse themselves from voting or decision-making.

The Senate passed its amended version 33-0 Saturday, with only Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, absent. The House then accepted the Senate changes, and passed the bill 73-20, with seven delegates absent. 

Died

House Joint Resolution 106: Partisan school board elections — This would have allowed county board of education candidates to place their political party, if any, on the ballot.

Currently, local school board races are nonpartisan.

The House Education Committee passed this, but the House Judiciary Committee never took it up. It was a proposed state constitutional amendment, so voters would have still had to approve it on a ballot if it passed the Legislature.

Senate Bill 493: Requiring school boards to livestream — This would have required county boards of education to broadcast their meetings live online and archive those videos for the public.

It also would have barred these school boards from having online-only or teleconference-only meetings. In-person attendance would have to be allowed.

While governing bodies like school boards are required to keep records of actions at their meetings, these typed “minutes” can be bare-bones. They can leave out presentations, deliberation and discussion that an archived video would provide.

The Senate put the video archiving requirement back into the bill, after the House removed it, and then passed the bill back to the House 31-0 Saturday. Sens. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia; Robert Plymale, D-Wayne; and Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, were absent.

The House never took up or passed that version of the bill.

Senate Bill 509: Ending upfront teacher leave — This would have stopped public school teachers from receiving all their 15 annual leave days at the start of each school year.

Teachers and other public school workers would have instead accrued 1.5 days per month of employment. Teachers’ annual employment periods are generally 10 months.

That 1.5 number would have been a minimum, so county boards of education could have offered a faster accrual rate.

County schools superintendents would have been allowed to advance a first-year employee their leave days in certain circumstances, including any cause approved by the county board of education.

The Senate passed this 18-15 Feb. 14. Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, was absent, and joining all the other Democrats in voting no were Republican Sens. Amy Grady, R-Mason; Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur; Patrick Martin, R-Lewis; Mark Maynard, R-Wayne; and David Stover, R-Wyoming.

The House Education Committee never advanced it.

Senate Bill 541: Reducing home-school oversight — This would have only required a parent to submit results from a test or a work portfolio for their home-schooled child for the child’s first year of home-schooling, if the test score or portfolio showed “adequate academic progress.”

It didn’t define what that phrase meant.

This possible one-time submission would have been a decrease from the currently required submissions at grades 3, 5, 8 and 11. This bill would not have affected families receiving public money for home-schooling through the upcoming non-public school vouchers program — they would have to report annually.

The test results or work portfolio is submitted to the local county schools superintendent.

The bill would have kept the superintendent’s ability under current law to, after “a showing of probable cause,” seek a court order banning the child from being home-schooled. A judge can grant this order if there is “clear and convincing evidence” the child will suffer educational neglect, “or that there are other compelling reasons.”

The Senate passed this 20-13 Feb. 21. Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, was absent, all the other Democrats voted no and three Republicans joined them: Sens. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur; David Stover, R-Wyoming; and Ryan Weld, R-Brooke.

The House Education Committee never advanced it.

Senate Bill 586: High school athlete transfer — This would have allowed a one-time school transfer for high school students without a year of athletic ineligibility.

There is currently already a process where students can appeal to the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission for immediate eligibility.

The Senate passed this 31-3 Feb. 23, with Senate Majority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier; Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion; and Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, voting no.

But the House Education Committee never took it up. The Senate then shoved the provisions of the bill into another bill, but the House refused to accept that on a 71-26 vote, with three delegates absent.

Senate Bill 644: Charter school stimulus — This would have created a “Charter Schools Stimulus Fund.”

The fund would have been for organizations trying to start charters “that may not otherwise have the resources” for start-up costs or building renovations.

The state Professional Charter School Board, the unelected charter approval board created last year, would have administered the fund. Gov. Jim Justice appointed the board’s members, and the Senate confirmed them.

The bill said applicants for the funding would have to “attest to or demonstrate that” they aren’t “working with or financed by any organization that has started or financed other charter schools to the degree that facilitating and starting charter schools is a significant portion of the organization’s purpose.”

These applicants could have received up to $200,000.

The Senate Education Committee passed this in a voice vote with some dissent. The Senate Finance Committee never advanced it.

Senate Bill 645: Licensing special education private schools — This would have established a process for the state Department of Education to license private schools for children with autism or disabilities.

Among other things, it would have made it a misdemeanor offense to open or operate such schools without a license from the state schools superintendent.

But the bill said the state could not be held legally liable for these private schools or their employees.

A lobbyist for New York-based Gersh Autism, which is seeking to open an autism boarding school on the site of the former Sugar Grove U.S. Navy base in Pendleton County, requested the bill. The lobbyist, Mark Drennan, said the company wanted a “stamp of approval on our special ed program, so that other states would feel comfortable sending their children.”

The Senate passed it March 2, with Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, the only no vote. Sen. David Stover, R-Wyoming, was absent.

The House never took it up.

Senate Bill 653: Transferring Pierpont program to Fairmont — This originally would have made Pierpont Community and Technical College part of Fairmont State University, but the House amended it to just transfer one Pierpont program to Fairmont State.

Those who testified to delegates said Pierpont’s Aviation Maintenance Technology program is in a Fairmont State building and is currently required to relocate — just like other Pierpont programs must leave Fairmont State facilities under a past agreement.

But that particular relocation would cause issues with Federal Aviation Administration certification, said Thomas O’Neill, executive director of the West Virginia Aerospace Alliance industry group.

The House passed its amended version 90-3 Saturday, with seven delegates absent. The three no votes were from Delegates Jason Barrett, R-Berkeley; Ty Nestor, R-Randolph; and Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming.

The Senate never took up or passed that version of the bill.

House Bill 2364: Armed educators — This would have let teachers and principals bring concealed guns into public schools, if their county board of education approved it — or if the state Homeland Security secretary overruled the school board.

These armed educators, called “school protection officers,” would have been required to go through a training program designed by the state Department of Homeland Security. That training would have included “use of force” training. The program would have been similar to that for “prevention resource officers,” or PROs. Those are police officers who work in schools.

Additionally, these educators would have had to take a minimum 8-hour, in-person “active shooter training program that includes tactical firearms skills, and weapon qualifications to be developed and provided by” their county sheriff’s office.

The educator also would have been required to qualify on a range with the gun they planned to carry, plus have a West Virginia concealed-carry permit.

The schools where these educators are located and their names would have been hidden from public records requests.

The House Education Committee advanced this, but the House Judiciary Committee never took it up.

House Bill 4011: Required posting of race curricula — This would have required public and charter schools to post online all curricula or employee training materials concerning “nondiscrimination, diversity, equity, inclusion, race, ethnicity, sex, or bias, or any combination of these concepts with other concepts.”

It also would have prohibited schools from, among other things, requiring or compelling students or employees to affirm that “an individual, by virtue of his or her race, sex, ethnicity, religion, or national origin should be blamed for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, sex, ethnicity, religion, or national origin.”

The House Education Committee advanced this, but the House Judiciary Committee never did. The Legislature did pass at least one other, narrower bill concerning the “critical race theory” controversy.

House Bill 4071: Banning public school mask mandates — This would have ended face mask requirements in public schools.

It would have also banned those schools from requiring COVID-19 testing of students or employees who are not showing symptoms, and banned schools from requiring them to quarantine without a positive test result.

This bill, dubbed “the Public School Health Rights Act,” passed the House 80-16 March 1, with only Democrats voting no.

Four Republicans were absent, and six Democrats voted with the GOP: Jim Barach, D-Kanawha; Brent Boggs, D-Braxton; Nathan Brown, D-Mingo; Phillip Diserio, D-Brooke; Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio; and Kayla Young, D-Kanawha.

The Senate Education Committee then advanced it, but the Senate Judiciary Committee never took it up.

House Bill 4467: Adding help to early grade classrooms — This would have added “early childhood classroom assistant teachers” to 300 first-grade public school classrooms for a three-year pilot program.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, called it his “top personal priority.”

The House passed it 90-3 March 2, with seven delegates absent. The three no votes were from Delegates Geoff Foster, R-Putnam; Joe Jeffries, R-Putnam; and Shannon Kimes, R-Wood.

The Senate Education Committee advanced it, but the Senate Finance Committee never took it up. That was despite the House reducing the cost of Hanshaw’s introduced version from an estimated $60.2 million annually to $12.5 million annually, by only adding the 300 new employees instead of the originally proposed 1,600 to both first- and second-grade classrooms.

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