If you only paid attention to the hyperventilated debate, you would think that Republicans and Governor Jim Justice were gutting public education and undermining teachers. However, the education reform bill, which has now been signed into law by Justice, is chock-full of often overlooked or less-well publicized improvements to our school system.
Frankly, there are too many to list in this commentary, but here are some that standout:
—$177 million in new spending on public education. That’s on top of the estimated $3.3 to $3.5 billion state and federal dollars West Virginia will spend on public education in FY 2020.
—Teacher base pay increases $2,120 annually starting today, while service worker pay rises $1,150. That represents another $65 million in teacher pay and is the second increase in as many years. The bill provides $8 million to boost base pay for math and special ed teachers.
—Educators repeatedly cited the need for more support services such as social workers, psychologists and counselors. This bill appropriates another $30.5 million for those services.
—The legislation changes the school funding calculation, allowing county boards to keep more local tax money collected to pay for education.
—Eleven smaller counties that face declining enrollment are going to receive a subsidy. Those counties will see an increase of over $5 million this fiscal year to help operate their schools.
—County school systems will have greater salary flexibility to hire certified teachers in hard-to-fill positions. In addition, the state will offer college scholarships of $10,000 a year to individuals who agree to teach in a critical shortage field for at least five consecutive years.
—Teachers who use four or fewer days of annual leave during the school year will receive a $500 bonus. The number of teacher personal days rises from three to four. Also, teachers and support personnel will receive $200 to buy supplies.
—The state Department of Education is required to survey districts to determine where classroom overcrowding is impeding achievement and come up with a plan to fix those problems.
Lawmakers, the Governor, educators and other stakeholders argued for months over charters, education savings accounts (which are not in the bill), and seniority (which remains protected during layoffs). These were just the tip of the iceberg.
Below the surface is the bulk of this bill, which includes the most significant investment in public education in recent memory.