Legislative priority is additional classroom aides for first and second grades

West Virginia lawmakers will consider a range of educational policies, including the addition of aides to classrooms for the youngest students.

Roger Hanshaw

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said providing funding for those aides is a top priority for him. He cited public investment to support upper grade levels over the past few years but said that won’t pay off if younger students don’t have enough support to be prepared.

“What I know is the problem is student-to-teacher ratio in those early grades,” Hanshaw said while participating on a legislative preview panel Friday.

“That’s where my support for that comes from. It’s making sure that we are not sending kids into higher grades to take advantage of things we have been trying to do the last four years in such a way that they can’t reap the benefits out of it.”

The funding for aides would be for first- and second-grade classrooms.

Joe Statler

Delegate Joe Statler, vice chairman of the House Education Committee, also described that support as a priority during Friday’s Legislative Lookahead event sponsored by the West Virginia Press Association, AARP West Virginia and West Virginia University’s university relations office.

“As a whole, this piece of legislation will be tremendously productive in this state as it allows more one-on-one with the students,” said Statler, R-Monongalia.

“We know the building of the foundation in education is critical, so these students have what they need, especially in the reading skills to move forward.”

Statler described the effort as building on the success of pre-kindergarten programs in the state.

The financial projection is $68 million, Statler said, affecting about 1,800 classrooms. He said the state Department of Education and others are working on preparing the legislation. The regular, 60-day legislative session begins next week.

“If you have more than 12 students in the classroom, you will be required to have an assistant in that classroom,” he said.

Dale Lee

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said he hopes the policy would truly keep class sizes smaller.

“My concern to Delegate Statler is, I understand the desire to put aides in classrooms, teachers assistants,” Lee said. “My hope is that you’re not going to increase the class sizes, the size of those classrooms, to do that.”

Higher ed funding formula

Statler also said the House Education Committee will consider a revamped funding formula for colleges and universities. A formula could provide more certainty than the ups and downs of the traditional budget process, Statler said. “It’s going to be another piece of legislation that will really help,” he said.

Hanshaw agreed.

“I think it will provide some stability for our higher education institutions,” he said. “I think it will provide them with some clarity about what expectations are on the part of the state in terms of how we want to allocate our resources for the higher education institutions.”

Mirta Martin

Fairmont State University President Mirta Martin described significant progress made by higher education leaders examining how the formula would work.

But Martin warned that the covid-19 pandemic has resulted in so many changes to society, the economy and education that it’s challenging to define what higher education success should be.

“We are concerned that this is a very challenging time to implement a performance-based funding formula,” Martin said. “We just don’t have a baseline yet to measure our future in a constantly-changing present.”

Pay raises

Statler also alluded to the pay increase for public employees promised last month by Gov. Jim Justice. The pay increase described as an average 5 percent bump would affect teachers all over the state.

“The thing that’s nice about this, is this was not triggered by any request,” he said.

Lee of the West Virginia Education Association said those raises could help the state recruit and retain employees in the education system.

“We have to address the shortages. We know there are teacher shortages, service personnel shortages, our bus drivers, our cooks, custodians, everywhere we have shortages,” he said. “We have to make our salaries comparable with our contiguous states.”

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