Last week we asked some very direct questions of Legislative Hubbub readers: What policies impact your community the most, and what policies aren’t getting the attention they need this year.
Education was the number one answer for every question we asked.
While the West Virginia education system has produced world-class leaders in a number of areas, it is clear that the system is currently in a period of significant struggle. The state has been at the bottom of the country in performance rankings for years.
The challenges facing the state education system haven’t been for lack of attention – by the public or by the legislature. There is a constant refrain that teacher salaries are too low, educational standards are forcing teachers to spend all their instructional time teaching to the test, that facilities are crumbling, and that too much taxpayer funding for the system goes to the administration and not enough to schools.
In 2013, Governor Tomblin declared education as a top legislative priority and passed a comprehensive education reform law, SB 391. The state also piloted comprehensive local school improvement programs like Reconnecting McDowell and the Charleston West Side Community Schools project.
The Republican leadership made clear that education would be a top priority for them this session, right behind issues relating to the economy and tort reform. The new House Education Chair, Amanda Pasdon (Monongalia Co.) has been outspoken about her priorities for this year’s session: alternative teaching certification, public charter schools and repealing common core.
While all of these leadership priorities are still in play at the Legislature, they don’t directly address some of the problems that have been acknowledged as key to improving the system. And the controversy around them has squeezed out any conversation about other educational bills that have been introduced this session that would address those problems.
So what’s been introduced? What education bills have been passed? What’s still alive that you should be following in these last few days?
The House introduced 71 education-related bills this year and the Senate introduced 43.
At least 11 bills were introduced to raise salaries for teachers, service personnel or other education officials within the schools. None of these bills made it out of either chamber, with most being held in the House and Senate education committees. No bills are still alive that would increase teacher salaries, though there has been talk of possibly amending a bill to include salary increases. This is unlikely to pass both sides in the next three days though.
A number of bills were also introduced relating to school financing and facility funding. Last week the Governor signed a bill transferring an additional $18 million to the state School Board Authority (HB 2764). That is the only bill that we know of that passed providing additional funding for school facilities specifically. Additional funding may be provided in the budget bill, which will likely be taken up in a special session after the regular session ends on Saturday.
No matter what side you find yourself on in terms of politics, everyone is in agreement that education is a critical and fundamental need for improving West Virginia. If you were going to make a better education system for West Virginia, what changes would you introduce during next year’s legislative session?
We’d love to hear your comments – use the comment box below. As always keep the thread helpful, informative and classy.