The big story out of the state School Board’s emergency meeting this week was frustration expressed by state School Superintendent Steve Paine over he and the Board being left out of the crafting of a sweeping education reform bill.
“Look at the board we have,” an aggravated Paine said. “Now why are we not being consulted when we talk about reform agenda?”
The superintendent’s candid comments added to the controversy over the bill, which is now being taken up by the full Senate after narrowly passing out of a Senate committee-of-the-whole by an 18-16 vote. However, lost in the story was the fact that the state Board supports much of the bill.
(Here is a helpful Powerpoint of the bill.)
According to their news release, the Board voted to endorse 14 sections of the legislation and endorse with provisions another four. It only voted not to endorse eight sections and took no position on two more.
The Board is against charter schools and education savings accounts. Those have been the most controversial issues and have triggered considerable debate. But the Board came out in support of key provisions that would further empower local school boards and take significant steps toward filling teacher vacancies.
These provisions are less well understood and haven’t been discussed much, but they are potential game changers for public education in West Virginia.
One provision empowers county school boards to increase the maximum levy rates on property up to the limits established in the state code.* The Board endorsed this proposal as long as no school district would receive less in state funding.
This is perhaps the least understood provision in the bill. It means school boards could vote to raise taxes. Unlike an excess levy, which requires approval by voters, the regular levy could be raised by only a majority vote of the county school board.
The state Board also backed the provision that keeps the local share cap at the fiscal year 2016 level. That means if a county grows and property tax collections increase beyond the 2016 level, the county would be able to keep those additional funds. It’s estimated that 36 counties would benefit from this change.
The state Board endorsed allowing county school boards to pay more to teachers for hard-to-fill positions such as math, science and special education or to teach in geographic locations where it is difficult to attract teachers.
Additionally, the bill provides for math teachers to get a three-year bump in their salary schedule, and teachers who complete a specialized course to teach math in middle and high school would receive a one-time bonus of $2,000.
The current funding model emphasizes fiscal equity among all the counties and leaves very little room for local boards to invest more in their schools if they choose. It also prevents county school systems from paying more to attract teachers in critical and hard-to-fill positions.
SB 451 includes several reasonable and creative solutions to these problems. Superintendent Paine and the State Board may not like the process, and they should have been included in crafting the bill, but their endorsement of many of the bill’s provisions sends a powerful message about the changes needed in public education in West Virginia.
*(The current regular levy rates are 19.4 cents per $100 for Class I property, 38.8 cents per $100 for Class II property and 77.6 cents per $100 for Class III and IV property. The bill would allow county school boards to raise those rates to 22.95 cents for Class I, 45.9 cents for Class II and 91.8 cents for Class III and IV. Class I property is intangible personal property. Class II is owner-occupied residential property and farmland used for agricultural purposes. Class III is all real and personal property outside a municipality that is not taxed in Class I or II. Class IV is all property inside a municipality that is not taxed in Class I or II.)