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Brian Dayton: 'Omnibus' education bill is great step (The State Journal)


West Virginia received some great news this week when the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released data that showed West Virginia led the nation in personal income growth for the first quarter of this year.

This information, coupled with the latest employment report from Workforce West Virginia, demonstrates that West Virginia’s economy is moving in the right direction.

West Virginia saw its highest level of employment in the month of May since 2009, and over 24,000 jobs have been created in West Virginia when compared to May 2015.

This is cause for celebration, but we must also maintain a focus on sustaining this economic growth, and that is exactly what the West Virginia Legislature did when it passed HB 206, which is a comprehensive education reform bill.

HB 206, which has been commonly referred to as the “omnibus” education reform bill, is an important investment in public education in West Virginia, with several components included that will bring more support for students and teachers.

This bill provides teachers and school service personnel a 5% raise and further increases compensation for math and special education teachers — two areas designated statewide as critical-need.

HB 206 also gives counties flexibility in designating critical-need subjects and increasing compensation to attract highly qualified teachers into those fields.

To address problems with student truancy, school officials now will be required to make meaningful contact with parents after three unexcused absences to make every effort to get the student back into the classroom.

In an effort to reduce teacher absenteeism — which has increased in recent years — HB 206 gives classroom teachers an annual bonus of $500 if they miss less than four days per year.

To help our most vulnerable children, this bill provides $30 million for additional student support personnel in our schools whose focus will be to work with these students on addressing their basic social and emotional needs and well-being.

HB 206 also requires professional development for all classroom teachers on the social, emotional and behavioral needs of students and requires counselors to spend more time with students

More local control in education has been a major theme espoused by most of those involved in the education debate.

Recognizing this, the West Virginia Legislature made a significant step in how the state aid formula is allocated to counties, removing many of the restrictions on how those funds can be spent and recognizing that local county boards of education and school districts have a better idea on how to spend their funds than bureaucrats in Charleston.

This legislation also will make it easier for parents to enroll their children in a school outside the county in which they live, by removing the requirement that the county “losing” the student must approve the transfer, and keeping the decision with the county that would gain the new pupil.

As someone who lives in Putnam County, works in Kanawha County, and has a spouse that works in Cabell County, I can attest that this provision will be welcomed by many families who may prefer to have their children in a school closer to where they work.

This also will help give a reprieve to those students who must ride a bus for hours each day.

The most controversial piece of this legislation is a provision that gives county boards of education the OPTION to authorize public charter schools in their county.

These are public schools with public dollars that cannot pick and choose which students attend. They are freed from state and county regulations in exchange for greater flexibility and accountability.

No more than three public charter schools in the entire state can be authorized until 2023, and then that “cap” only increases by an additional three every three years.

Nothing in HB 206 requires a county school board to authorize a public charter school.

Our county boards of education are elected and answerable to the citizens. This bill simply gives them another tool in the toolbox for improving student outcomes, and allows what 44 states and the District of Columbia already permit.

HB 206 is a great step towards improving education outcomes in the Mountain State.

The members of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, who are located in all 55 counties and employ over half of the state’s workforce, have repeatedly told us that they value public education and see it is a great investment of their tax dollars. That is why the West Virginia Chamber was proud to support this important legislation.

I applaud the leadership of the West Virginia Legislature for their passion to ensure that every child receives a world-class education. And I applaud Gov. Justice for signing this important bill.

Brian Dayton is the director of Research and Member Communications at the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

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