Committee looks at proposed changes to education bill
CHARLESTON — Members of the House Education Committee are considering making changes to several of the big-ticket items in the state Senate’s education reform legislation.
The committee met Wednesday morning and afternoon to look at a strike-and-insert amendment to Senate Bill 451, the education omnibus bill. The afternoon meeting had to be moved to the larger House Government Organization Committee’s meeting room to accommodate all those who wished to attend the meeting.
“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,” said House Education Committee Chairman Danny Hamrick, R-Harrison.
Big changes being considered by House committee members 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.
Only one or multiple counties could authorize a charter school in the House version of the bill. The Public Charter School Commission could only authorize a school in the event of an appeal. It 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. It also removes the nonseverability clause, which would have rendered the entire bill invalid if any part of it was successfully challenged in court.
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 School Activities Commission still apply.
Provisions for school counselors would require them to spent 80 percent of their time in direct counseling with students, instead of 75 percent in the Senate bill. Only families with a combined household income of $150,000 would qualify for one of the first 2,500 accounts.
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.”
The House Education Committee will meet again today at 9 a.m. in the House Government Organization Committee room.