It is once again a privilege to be back in Charleston representing the 15th District during the first special session of 2010. The main focus of the session is on eight education initiatives. The governor called us into special session to try to remedy West Virginia's poor showing in the opening round of Race to the Top funding, which makes the state eligible for up to $75 million in school grants. The state has until June 1 to apply for the second round of competitive grants.
West Virginia lost points with its initial bid for not allowing charter schools, which rely on public funds but operate independently and can compete with regular schools for students and per-pupil aid. State education officials have stopped short of calling for charter schools, proposing instead that the state expand its new innovation zone program to more closely resemble them.
Adopted last year, the zone program frees schools that qualify from some of the rules governing curriculum, scheduling and staffing. An explanation of the eight school-related initiatives are as follows:
Senate Bill 1001 would streamline in-school committees in an attempt to make them run more efficiently.
Senate Bill 1002 would require at least annual evaluations of teachers and other school service personnel with effective dates as to when these evaluations must be completed.
Senate Bill 1006 would provide for the alternative certification of principals and teachers. This bill would create a system to allow the alternative certification of principals and assistant principals outside of the regular university or college system. This bill would also allow approved education providers to sponsor alternative certificate programs for teachers and principals.
Senate Bill 1007 would create Charter Innovation Zone 2.0 Schools. These public schools have site-based authority over decisions including, but not limited to, matters concerning finance, staff selection, scheduling, curriculum and instruction. The bill sets forth the application, approval and funding of such schools. The bill also creates the Charter Innovation Zone 2.0 Schools Commission to assist the state board in reviewing applications. The bill provides for admissions and enrollment criteria for schools and requires school districts to provide information regarding the schools.
Senate Bill 1008 would require comprehensive health screenings for students entering public school for the first time in this state and students entering third, sixth and ninth grades.
Senate Bill 1009 relates to the overall improvement in schools and school districts. This bill would require that schools and school districts map out an educational blueprint to run through 2020. This bill covers the entire process for improving education, education standards, statewide assessment program, accountability measures, school accreditation and intervention to correct low performance.
Senate Bill 1012 would mandate certain salary supplements for teachers and principals employed in schools with a student population that is high-poverty or high-minority and for teachers teaching in a documented area of shortage in schools with a student population that is high-poverty or high-minority. The bill also authorizes monetary incentives for teachers and principals whose students meet goals for student growth during the previous school year. The bill also authorizes county boards to provide additional supplements.
West Virginia would boost salaries by $1,000 for classroom teachers, principals and assistant principals who work in high-poverty or high-minority schools, through special session legislation under review.
Those teachers would earn an additional $500 annually if they ease shortages in math and science instruction. Teachers and administrators throughout the public schools, meanwhile, could win $1,000, one-time payments for meeting as-yet-undefined "student growth" goals. County school boards could supplement these incentives as well.
Department of Education officials consider 177 public schools high-poverty, because they rank within the top quarter of all schools for students eligible for free- and reduced-cost meals. Schools with 20 percent or more non-white students are deemed high minority, and the department counts 64 of those.
Nearly 4,470 classroom teachers would be eligible for the merit pay offered under those criteria, along with 274 administrators, according to Department of Education figures. Of those teachers, 765 are in math or science. A much larger group of 22,066 educators could reap the student growth lump sums.
Officials estimate the various pay incentives would together cost between $20.6 and $34.2 million annually, at a time when recession-weakened tax revenues have tightened state spending. Base salaries now range from $25,651 for starting teachers to $52,067 for those with doctorates and on the job for at least 35 years.
Senate Bill 1013 would update certain provisions governing the hiring practices of teachers and other public school personnel.
Many of these bills are idealistic and have been presented in order for the state Department of Education to pursue federal funds through President Obama's Race to the Top program.
I support educational reform when it is good for academic improvement and opportunity. Change sought for the purposes of chasing dollars is often not thoughtful or effective. I will be very careful in considering each idea.
If you would like to look up the status of any bills considered during the first Special Session of 2010, visit the 79th Legislature on the web at www.legis.state.wv.us/.
I encourage you to tell me what you think about this or any other issue affecting our state and our district. You can write to me at: Clark S. Barnes, State Senate, West Wing, Room 203, State Capitol Building, Charleston, W.Va. 25305; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or call my Charleston office at 304-357-7973.
(Editor's note: Barnes is a state senator representing the 15th District.)