West Virginia Executive Spring 2017 - Page 30

HB 2711 AND SB 18 EDUCATION By Jessica Wintz-Adams When Governor Jim Justice was sworn in on January 16, 2017, he brought with him a blue folder he said contained his plan to improve West Virginia’s education system, which has been under the microscope over the past several years concern- ing student achievement, education standards and assessment testing. He called for the elimination of unnecessary agencies and spoke about how his plan would offer new insight regard- ing the state’s education system. Justice believed his education bill, House Bill (HB) 2711, would help promote an efficient and effective public education system by reducing state bureaucracy, restoring local control through increased flexibility with regulations for county school systems and providing support for classroom teachers throughout the state. If passed, the bill would perform many functions by calling for the abolition of Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs) and their funding and eliminating the Office of Educa- tion Performance Audits. The bill would also require flexibility to help counties meet the 180 instructional days in the school calendar and provide an $808 pay raise for classroom teachers. HB 2711 also proposed changing school accreditation and accountability measures, an issue Justice spoke of during his State of the State address when he proposed replacing Smarter Balanced, the state’s current summative assessment test given to students, with ACT. This goal was meant to be accomplished with the introduction of Senate Bill (SB) 18. The West Virginia Senate took up SB 18 first, which originally proposed the requirement of using ACT and ACT Aspire as the comprehensive statewide student assessment. Once the bill was amended by the Senate Education Com- mittee, SB 18 no longer named a par- ticular assessment test to be used, and its language was further amended on the floor by Senator Patricia Rucker to say that lawmakers have the right to mandate standards to any level of specificity. Her amendment also added language that said the state can’t use any statewide standardized testing based on Common Core, Next Generation or College and Career Readiness standards. 28 WEST VIRGINIA EXECUTIVE Senate Democrats and Senate Education Committee Chairman Kenny Mann spoke out against the intentions of Rucker’s amend- ment, and the bill narrowly passed by an 18-16 vote. The bill was then referred to the House Education Committee, where it died without further action. House Education Committee members then took up HB 2711 in a late-night marathon session where lawmakers debated the pros and cons of eliminating RESAs and ensuring West Virginia schools would continue to be provided with the training and services offered by RESAs. After passing by the full House, HB 2711 caused tension among Senate Education Committee members when Senator Robert Karnes proposed language similar to SB 18’s concerning the Legislature’s role in mandating education standards. The committee adjourned before taking action on the bill. The Senate Education Committee took up the bill the next day and accepted language changes that called for the West Virginia Department of Education to constructively consult with lawmakers prior to the adoption of education standards. With five minutes until midnight, the Senate passed Justice’s education bill, and it was signed into law on April 26, 2017. While it is unclear what other education measures Justice or state lawmakers may propose in future sessions, the debate con- cerning West Virginia’s education system continues. 