Success Act Helps Our Schools in Many Ways
By the time you read this, Saturday’s special session in the Senate may (or may not) be finished. When all is said and done, it may be hard to cut through the noise and be certain what was (or wasn’t) included in the West Virginia Student Success Act of 2019.
To make it a little easier, I thought I would just lay it out before you in black and white.
Here is a rundown of items that were included in what I voted for in the Student Success Act, the Senate’s education reform bill:
n A $250 tax credit for every teacher for their expenses on supplies for their classrooms or professional development
n An expansion of the hugely successful Mountaineer Challenge Academy for at-risk teens in Preston County, bringing an additional location of the program to the former campus of WVU Tech in Fayette County — an expansion which has the mayor of Montgomery feeling hopeful about the future of that small town
n A statewide digital literacy program to ensure that our kids are on par with their peers and learning with the latest technology
n Training for teachers across the state to help them address the social, emotional, and behavioral needs of their students — something that we’ve heard for months is desperately wanted and needed
n A survey, conducted by the West Virginia Department of Education, that would evaluate all of our schools to determine where the overcrowding of classrooms interferes with student achievement.
n A policy that ensures that our school counselors spend a minimum of 80 percent of their time working with students, and less time doing administrative paperwork
n More time for teachers during the school day to spend in collaboration with each other, problem-solving and planning activities together — again, something we’ve heard is desperately needed and wanted
n Making a teacher’s recommendation that a student be promoted to the next grade the primary consideration in that decision, because I believe they are the ones most qualified to make that judgment.
n Giving county boards of education the option to designate a school as an Innovation in Education school (otherwise known as “Innovation Zones”),
n Additional funding for wrap-around support services that our public schools need to address students who are chronically absent, and to increase the number of psychologists and social workers who will be on the ground providing social and emotional support to students
n A way to assist counties who have an enrollment below 1,400 students get a little extra needed financial help to maintain their school systems
n A pay raise for teachers and school service personnel, but also increased compensation for math and special education teachers (two subject areas our state has a desperate shortage of teachers in), and the ability for counties to increase compensation for certified teachers in critical need and shortage areas even more for their expertise
n The ability for county boards of education to use the same factors in the reduction in force process that they use in the hiring process, helping to ensure that we keep the best teachers in our classrooms (if you haven’t noticed by now, there is a common theme of giving our local boards more control in how they run their schools — because I believe that county boards of education are best suited to make that decision for their county)
n Modifications to the Underwood-Smith Teaching Scholars Program to offer help to recent college graduates who agree to teach in critical shortage areas and loan forgiveness for those who teach or are school counselors in a school or geographic area of critical need
n A $500 bonus to classroom teachers who use less than four days of leave per year.
n The freedom for county boards of education to truly take control of their budgets by releasing their state funding to them through a block grant, accompanied by a partnership with the state auditor’s office for a new fiscal transparency website so that all parents can see exactly how their school district is spending their tax dollars
Now, last but not least, here is the number of public charter schools that county boards of education will be forced to open because of the Senate’s education reform bill: zero. That’s because the bill solely contains language authorizing a county to open a public charter school — but only if they believe they feel it will help their county’s students — not because Charleston told them to.
Senator Weld represents the 1st Senatorial District and serves as the Senate Majority Whip, the Chair of the Senate Military Committee, and the Vice Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the West Virginia State Senate. He is also an attorney with the firm of Spilman, Thomas & Battle in their Wheeling office.