Our Work Continues…
Prior to the start of the legislative session, Governor Tomblin made it clear the recommendations of the Education Performance Audit would be the cornerstone of his education reform agenda. He also said the state would have a budget shortfall due to monies needed for Medicaid. As a result, he indicated all state agencies would be cut 7.5% (with the exception of public education in the school aid formula) and there would be no salary increases for anyone during the upcoming legislative session.
After a very generic mention of education reform in his State of the State address, Governor Tomblin said he would have his bill introduced within a week. WVEA President Dale Lee told the press after the State of the State address that the “devil would be in the details.” The bill was introduced and taken up in the Senate as SB 359. After reading the language in his original bill, it was very easy to spot an entire colony of devils living in it.
We discussed the process of working out a compromise on the bill throughout the legislative session and you can find the details of SB 359 on the WVEA website. We have addressed Governor Tomblin’s education reform agenda; what happens next?
As we look to the future, a couple of things become clear. The state has given away too many taxes to business and corporations and now there is no money for needed items in the budget – such as salary increases. Property taxes and personal income tax structures have remained the same while business taxes have been lowered and the food tax removed.
Corporate net income and business franchise taxes are at a 23-year low. While business taxes made up 12.7% of the general fund revenues in 1990, in 2014 their share is expected to be just 4.6%. This number is expected to drop to 3.9% in 2018.
The governor ran on a lower tax pledge and now because he is enacting his promises; the state does now have enough revenue. Quite honestly, lower business taxes and business incentives were supposed to bring high paying jobs to our state. Taxes were lowered but the jobs didn’t come.
As a result, individuals pay a far greater percentage of budget revenue than businesses. The revenue generated by personal income tax is expected to increase from 39% in 2014 to 44% in 2018.
We need to begin our discussions with lawmakers now regarding a significant salary increase in 2014 as we build our salaries with the goal of reaching the national average. Not only must it be stressed to them the need for a salary increase, but also the need for our state to increase revenue in order to fund such an increase.
Lawmakers should look at several ways to boost revenue over the coming years. One way would be to raise the tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products. For example, raising the cigarette tax from 55 cents per pack to $1 per pack could yield $120.8 million per year and also provide public health benefits that could lower state health care costs.
This year we addressed the governor’s need to enact “education reform.” Next year the governor and legislature must address salary increases for all education employees. A dedicated source of revenue to fund such an increase is doable. It is just a matter of will on the part of our elected leaders.
We must initiate the dialogue now and demonstrate our ongoing resolve in order to see a significant salary increase next session.
Bill Wrap Up
The following education related bills passed during the recent legislative session.
SB 22 – Requires insurance companies to cover maternity benefits for all health insurance plan dependents. If the affordable care act would require coverage and this code section is less restrictive, the affordable care act would dictate the required medical limits.
SB 80 – Requires employees of county departments of education to substitute teach 3 days each school year if they held or hold professional teaching certificates or administrative certificates.
SB 336 - Relates to concussions and head injuries of student athletes. This bill provides legislative findings about the frequency and seriousness of concussion and head injuries. The bill requires The West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission to promulgate rules that address concussions and head injuries in interscholastic athletes and submit them to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability. Rules must include:
• A concussion and head injury information sheet that shall be signed and returned by the interscholastic athlete and the athlete’s parent or guardian on an annual basis before the interscholastic athlete begins practice or competition;
• A requirement that each head coach of an interscholastic sport at a high school or middle school who is a member of the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission complete a commission-approved concussion and head injury recognition and return-to-play protocol course annually;
• A requirement that an interscholastic athlete who is suspected by a licensed health care professional or by his or her head coach or athletic trainer of having sustained a concussion or head injury in a practice or game shall be removed from competition at that time;
• A requirement that an interscholastic athlete who has been removed from play or practice may not return to play or practice until the athlete is evaluated by a licensed health care professional trained in the evaluation and management of concussions and receives written clearance to return to play and practice from the licensed health care professional;
• A requirement that all member schools must submit a report to the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission within thirty days of an interscholastic athlete suffering or being suspected of suffering a concus¬sion or head injury in a practice or game.
SB 359 – See the WVEA website for details of the governor’s Education Reform Bill which was passed earlier in the session.
SB 394 – Expanded scholarships to the children of state troopers killed in the line of duty to any firefighter, county officer, or municipal officer participating in the state retirement system. The bill also clarified that the student will be provided $7,500 per year in scholarship money towards college.
SB 430 – Clarifies that an employment term for teachers is defined as “employment for at least ten months in any plan year with a month being defined as twenty employment days.”
SB 458 – Permits PEIA to operate Medicare plans on a calendar year basis.
SB 477 – Creates a process allowing electronic voter registration.
SB 604 – Clarified that billboards, mass mailings and phone bank calls are considered electioneering communications for finance reporting purposes.
SB 663 – Established the WV Feed to Achieve Act. The Feed to Achieve initiative directs schools to make available and to promote the federally approved and subsidized meals to all pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade students and to consider reducing or eliminating the cost to students if sufficient funds become available. The Legislature intends to provide a framework for the State Board of Education and the county boards of education to provide a minimum of two nutritious meals each school day to all students. The Legislature intends for the state and county boards of education to enter into public-private partnerships to eventually provide free nutritious meals for all pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade school children in West Virginia.
Each county board of education shall establish standards to allow for the provision of healthy, nutritious meals to all elementary school students, without cost to students, where schools find it practical to do so. The Feed to Achieve initiative will be phased in for all elementary schools as sufficient funds become available, through donations, contributions and payments made by individuals, communities, businesses, organizations and parents or guardians on behalf of students. Nothing in this article prohibits any school from providing free meals to all of its students. All schools must adopt a delivery system approved by the state Office of Child Nutrition no later than the 2015 school year, ensuring all students are given an adequate opportunity to eat breakfast. Classroom teachers may not be required to participate in the operation of the school breakfast program as part of their regular duties.
HB 2470 – Creates a classification and pay grade for sign language specialist or educational sign language interpreter. The bill requires the cost of certification renewal and satisfying the requirements of the West Virginia Registry of Interpreters must be reimbursed or paid by the County and a procedure for waivers whereas a sign support specialist may be assigned to a student who is deaf or hard of hearing in lieu of an interpreter only if an educational sign language interpreter I or II is unavailable, and the sign support specialist is executing a professional development plan while actively seeking certification as an educational sign language interpreter I or II.
HB 2490 – Requires the appointment of veterans advocates at higher education institutions.
HB 2491 – Establishes a uniform course for completion policies at higher education institutions when veteran students are called to active duty.
HB 2458 –increases penalties of assault or battery against an athletic official acting in his or her official capacity from between $50 and $100 to no more than $500. The maximum jail time increases from between 24 hours and 30 days to no more than 6 months. An offender may be charged with a fine, jail time, or both.
HB 2727 – adjusts the foundation allowance section of the school aid formula for transportation costs by restricting the ten percent additional percentage allowance to school buses using compressed natural gas or propane and phasing out the additional percentage to bio-diesel over 4 years. The bill also reduces the funding for RESAs from $3,990,000 to $3,690,750 to reflect the state’s budget cuts.
HB 2729 − Allows schools to voluntarily stock and use epinephrine auto-injectors. The bill provides for the training procedures of staff before they may use an injector and lays our reporting guidelines if one was activated on a person. The language also provides: “A school nurse or trained and authorized nonmedical school personnel who administer an epinephrine auto-injection to a student or to school personnel as provided in this section is immune from liability for any civil action arising out of an act or omission resulting from the administration of the epinephrine auto-injection unless the act or omission was the result of the school nurse or trained and authorized nonmedical school personnel’s gross negligence or willful misconduct.”
HB 2764 – Allows assistant attendance directors to perform some of the duties attendance directors perform. They now may, when any doubt exists as to the age of a student absent from school, require a properly attested birth certificate or an affidavit from the parent, guardian or custodian of the student, stating age of the student. Take without warrant any student absent from school in violation of the provisions of this article and to place the student in the school in which he or she is or should be enrolled.
HB 2661 – Attempts to remove the deterrent to public schools seeking to assist the enrollment of a student, who is at-risk of becoming a discouraged and defeated learner by allowing them to engage in an alternative program designed to prepare them for a successful transition back into the public schools.
HB 2940 - Requires that during the months of July and August in 2013, and thereafter biennially within two months following the organizational meetings of county boards all county superintendents of schools and members of county boards belonging to the same RESA must meet together to identify administrative, coordinating and other county level services and functions that may be shared between or among the counties. The meeting shall be a special meeting of each participating county board. The West Virginia School Board Association shall conduct the meetings. Nothing in the bill requires the elimination or consolidation of county school districts.
HB 3157 – The final version clarified ambiguity in SB 359 surrounding start dates for changes with the school calendar. HB 3157 states “the amendments to this section during the 2013 regular session of the Legislature shall be effective for school years beginning on or after July 1, 2014, and the provisions of this section existing immediately prior to the 2013 regular session of the Legislature remain in effect for school years beginning prior to July 1, 2014.”
The bill also requires the state board to evaluate the reports principals and teachers must complete and determine which are “repetitive, unnecessary, counterproductive or outdated” in an effort to lessen the burden. The board must then report to the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability (LOCEA) each year, identifying all unnecessary reports and information on how to reduce and consolidate reporting procedures.
The amount counties receive for instructional programs under the foundation allowance in school support will change. Funding based on counties electronic strategic improvement plans moves from 15% to 10% in July, 2014. Each county receives $150,000 and a proportional amount of the local share increase based on the average of each county’s daily attendance taken from the preceding year and the second month net enrollment. Up to 25% of this allocation may be used to employ professional educators and service personnel in counties after other provisions are utilized. Beginning July 1, 2013, and thereafter, funds available to a county for personnel above previous year’s amount may be used solely to employ technology systems specialists (TSS) until the state superintendent determines that the county employs sufficient technology systems specialists to serve the needs of the county.
The bill removes funding for 21st Technology Learning Plan and redirects a slightly larger amount to instructional technology programs immediately. The funding must follow county and school strategic improvement plans. After July, 2014 funding increases to 20% (21st Tech Learning was at 15%) of the increase in local share above any other required allocations. Each county receives $30,000 plus the remainder of funds distributed proportionally to the average of each county’s average daily attendance for the preceding year and the county’s second month net enrollment.
Finally, the bill addresses auxiliary personnel or service personnel at the Schools for the Deaf and Blind by adding these positions to state board of education’s perview for suspension and dismissal matters in the case of immorality, incompetency, cruelty, insubordination, intemperance or willful neglect of duty. The bill also allows the state board to sit as a hearing board or they may assign a hearing examiner employed by the state board to preside over the taking of evidence. The procedure for hearings and deadlines is also laid out in the bill.
HB 3159 – Grants the Local Solutions Dropout Prevention and Recovery Innovation Zone plans to Monroe County Schools, excepting it for the purpose of allowing the school district to increase the compulsory school attendance age from seventeen years of age to eighteen years of age as part of its county-wide dropout prevention initiative. Secondly the bill approves Nicholas County Schools’ plan by permitting up to two unexcused absences per semester on regular instructional days to be erased from a student’s attendance record and not used toward the initiation of the attendance enforcement actions if the student successfully completes the county’s Saturday instruction program operated as part of the county’s county-wide Attendance Recovery dropout prevention initiative.
HCR 164 – WVEA successfully found sponsors for House Concurrent Resolution 164, a resolution to study the feasibility of a statewide election process for the State Board of Education. The study includes examining partisan and non-partisan elections of this state’s and other states’ boards. Additionally, the study would look at the best selection and election process for our state board. The study will also examine the number of board members best suited for the state and the impact of the election. Finally, the study will look at the path of authority between the State Board, Superintendent, Legislature and the Governor, including powers and duties shared by, granted to, or constitutionally established for each. Not all study resolutions are taken up. WVEA is working with leadership in efforts to have this one undertaken for the interim session.