We don’t know yet what will happen this legislative session with the proposed five percent (average) pay raise for teachers and school service workers. The House passed the bill overwhelmingly on February 22, but the Senate has been slow to move.
Many Senate Republicans are miffed that their comprehensive education reform bill, which included the pay raise, collapsed in the House, even after the Senate had reasonable assurances that it would pass.
When I have asked Senate Republicans whether they will support the pay raise bill, they frequently answer, “I already have,” a reference to the now-dead SB 451. Most of the Senate Republicans wanted charter schools and education savings accounts, which they considered integral to education reform.
However, there were many other provisions of SB 451 that would help the public school system. If they were essential to reform before the failure of the bill, they remain just as critical now. Here are just a few:
–A commitment to 11 county school systems with small and declining enrollments that they would receive the funding equivalent of 1,400 students, even if their enrollment is less.
–A provision freezing the amount a county contributes to the state aid formula at the 2015-2016 level. When property tax collections rise, the county school system keeps the additional money.
–An additional allocation of $24 million for school counselors, nurses and others who provide wrap-around services at the schools. Teachers and administrators say they desperately need additional staff to deal with children who are struggling at school and at home.
–A differential pay provision so county schools can pay higher salaries for hard-to-fill teaching positions and a $2,000 bonus for certified math teachers.
–A year-end cash bonus to teachers and service workers who miss no more than four days of work. It may seem absurd to provide a bonus just for coming to work, but the incentive may save money by cutting down on the number of days a county has to pay a substitute teacher.
–The Underwood-Smith Teaching Scholars Program, which would pay tuition for qualifying West Virginia students who agree to teach at least five years in hard-to-fill jobs, is moving on its own. This incentive would help with the teacher shortage.
Each day thousands of West Virginia school children attend classes taught by a teacher not certified in that discipline. It’s especially hard to find and retain qualified teachers in math, science and special education.
That’s unacceptable. Our students deserve better and many of the provisions of the failed SB 451 would give counties the flexibility and the additional funding they need to improve.
Charter schools and ESAs are done for this session. Proponents need to lick their wounds, develop a better strategy for passage, and come back next year. Parents everywhere are demanding more school choice, so it’s just a matter of time before West Virginia falls in line.
However, the failure of those provisions is no reason to hold back on the other parts of SB 451 that have value.