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West Virginia Senate Passes Student Success Act on 18-15 Vote

By Staff | Jun 5, 2019

CHARLESTON – After three days of debate and amendments, the state Senate’s second attempt at sweeping education reform passed Monday.

Senate Bill 1039, the Student Success Act, passed 18-15. It now goes to the House of Delegates, which will reconvene Monday, June 17, to consider SB 1039 and other education reform bills.

The 144-page bill includes 29 proposals that Senate Republican believe will ultimately help raise student academic achievement, while also providing greater funding, flexibility, and local control to county school systems.

“Today, the state Senate took a historic step toward improving the education performance of students in West Virginia,” said Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, speaking to press after the morning vote. “We took a historic step in improving the pay scale of our West Virginia teachers. We took a historic step in providing flexibility, choice, and options for our parents.”

According to a fiscal note from the state Department of Education, the Student Success Act has a price tag of more than $136 million.

“This is a day to celebrate our focus on education in the State of West Virginia because now, finally, we made significant moves towards enhanced compensation, more flexibility in choice, and improved student success,” Carmichael said.

The Student Success Act is a direct descendant of Senate Bill 451, the education omnibus bill that the Senate pushed as a vehicle for education reform during the 2019 regular session. The bill died in the house over disagreements between the two bodies over the two most controversial parts of the bill: public charter schools and education savings accounts.

In the new Student Success Act, public charter schools have returned. The bill allows county boards of education to authorize non-profits to set up charter schools, gives the state Board of Education the power to renew a charter after five years, revoke a charter, and hear appeals of charter application rejections. It would also allow charter schools to receive funding for serving exceptional students.

State Sen. Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, pointed out 44 states and territories have some form of charter schools and that the Student Success Act provides more power to local county boards of education, including ether to allow a charter school or not.

“This bill is local control,” Weld said. “Supporting this bill, from my perspective, means I trust local boards to make the best decisions for their counties. Nothing in this bill says, ‘Wirt County, you must open a charter school.’ It says if you want to open one, you can. It’s the ultimate local control.

State Sen. Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, questioned why Senate Republicans were so adamant on pushing charter schools, arguing that charter schools are low on the priorities of the public. Baldwin also said that the drafting of the bill was not bipartisan.

“It is not our job to defend the (education) system. It’s our job to support the system each and every day,” Baldwin said. “Why would we give “charters” a try if it is so low on the list of student achievement? We need to focus on what works.”

Speaking after the vote, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee agreed, call the last three days a waste of taxpayer dollars. According to the Senate Clerk’s Office, the resumption of the special session in the Senate starting Saturday through Monday was approximately $10,000 per day. Lee said he hopes the house will take a closer look at the bill.

“I expect the house to be much more deliberate,” Lee said. “I expect that the house is going to listen to the public and West Virginians instead of outside interest groups.”

Other provisions include greater opportunities for professional development for teachers and administrators, including training on social, emotional, and behavioral needs of students. Wraparound services, such as providing more mental health professionals, is included. The bill increases direct counseling time and increases the base amount for paying counselors and nurses.

The bill provides penalties for strikes prevent schools from using excess time to make up days lost due to a strike, including docking the pay of teachers and staff who go on strike, preventing schools from using excess time to make up lost days because of a strike, and it would require schools to stay open during a strike.

It would also create attendance zones to allow open enrollment between counties and an appeal process.

Classroom size is addressed, with the bill requiring a study of teacher-student ratios. It expands the Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy to a second location in Fayette County and creating two similar schools based on the successful program. It also gives counties to ability to designate schools as innovation zones, freeing them from certain state rules and regulations.

The school calendar would change in the Student Success Act redefining instructional time to an average of five hours per school day. It gives county school systems more authority regarding student truancy. Teachers would have authority to determine if a student should proceed to the next grade.

The Student Success Act includes a number of proposals to give counties more control of their funding. It would allow for regular levy rates to be increased with the approval of a majority of county voters. It would decrease the percentage of levy rates used to calculate local share from 90 percent to 85 percent.

The bill increases the percentage of each county’s allowance for current expenses from 70.25 percent to 71.25 percent of the county’s state average cost per square footage. The bill would allow counties with fewer than 1,400 students to be funded as if they had 1,400 students and require counties to receive their basic state aid allowance in the form of a block grant.

The 5 percent teacher and school service personnel pay raise proposed by Gov. Jim Justice is in the bill. It increases pay for math teachers and special education teachers and gives counties flexibility to raise salaries of high-need subjects or in remote geographic areas. It changes to the Underwood-Smith teaching scholarships and loan forgiveness programs to incentivize teachers to choose critical-need subjects.

It gives counties the ability to base hiring and reduction in force decisions on qualifications instead of solely on seniority. It gives teachers a $500 bonus for don’t use more than four days of leave.

“We know this is a big bill,” said Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson. “What gets lost in all the noise is it provides provisions to help our students succeed.”