Updated: W.Va. House Speaker Hanshaw Requests Public Hearing on Education Reform Bill

West Virginia Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, listens Wednesday during a House Education Committee meeting. Photo by Perry Bennett, W.Va. Legislative Services

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with new information and also to correct information concerning education savings accounts.

CHARLESTON — Late this morning, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, requested a public hearing in the House on Senate Bill 451.

Hanshaw sent a letter with the request to House Education Committee Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison, and Education Vice Chairman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley. House Rule 84 allows any House member to request a public hearing on a bill placed on a committee agenda. The hearing has been set for 8 a.m. Monday.

“We said from the start of our deliberations that we would accept input from all sides in this process, and that includes hearing from our teachers, students, parents and administrators,” Hanshaw said in a press release. “A public hearing will allow our citizens, and all those affected by this bill, the opportunity to have their voices heard.”

The House Education Committee continues its work this morning on the education package. The committee first met Wednesday to look at a strike-and-insert amendment to Senate Bill 451, the omnibus education bill.

“We’re going to be as slow and deliberate in this process as we can and make sure we come out of this committee with a version of this bill that is something that the majority of members on this committee agree with,” Hamrick said.

Big changes being considered include limiting the number of public charter schools in the bill to six statewide. The bill as it came out of the Senate would have created a statewide public charter school system with multiple authorizers.

The House bill sets in place how charter schools would be authorized, and also gives the state Board of Education more authority over charter schools when it comes to student performance and accountability. Colleges and universities, previously charter school authorizers in the Senate bill, would not be an authorizer but could apply to a county to start a charter school.

The House version puts limits on education savings accounts. Only special needs students would be eligible for the accounts, which puts a 75 percent equivalent of their state per-pupil funding on a debit card for parents to use for educational expenses. Only families with a combined household income of $150,000 or less would qualify for one of the first 2,500 accounts.

It also removes the nonseverability clause, which would have rendered the entire bill invalid if any part of it was successfully challenged in court. Only families with a combined household income of $150,000 or less would qualify for one of the first 2,500 accounts.

Open enrollment in the House bill would change to allow counties to develop policies when allowing students who reside in another county to attend school in a different county and sets criteria for allowing transfers. It also makes clear that the rules set in place by the Secondary Schools Activities Commission still apply.

Provisions for school counselors would require them to spend 80 percent of their time in direct counseling with students, instead of 75 percent in the Senate bill.

The bill still docks teacher pay during a work stoppage, but it would require any school days missed for a work stoppage to be made up and teachers would be compensated for those days. It removed the paycheck protection provisions requiring unions to receive annual approval before taking dues from teacher and school service employee paychecks.

The House version would expand the $250 teacher tax credit to school service personnel, and the $500 retirement bonus for every 10 days of sick leave banked by teachers would be expanded to all full-time county school employees. It also changes how those days are distributed and used.

The bill makes changes to the Underwood-Smith Teacher Scholarship and Loan Assistance program, renaming it and creating new requirements. Students who receive the grant would be required to teach math, science, or special education in a part of the state where the need is great, such as more rural parts of the state.

“Just so everyone knows, this is a starting point,” Hamrick said. “It’s expected that in meeting with different stakeholders and members of the committee and members of the House that this document will probably change a good bit between now and the time it’s voted on.”

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