Bills aim to give county school boards more flexibility

LEGISLATURE MOVING TO ALLOW NON-CREDENTIALED TEACHERS TO BE CERTIFIED – Charter School Efforts On Docket

Rural school systems are struggling to find certified teachers, particularly in critical subjects like science and math, and in general, just securing teachers to fill a slots.The 2015 legislature is proposing a solution, to certify non-credentialed individuals who have degrees and life experience in subject areas.A hundred years ago, county school systems issued “teaching certificates” to promising individuals that had not been to a teacher’s college, in order to fill the huge number of vacancies in one and two room schools in rural areas.

The GOP led legislature is moving forward with a long-proposed plan to establish charter schools in WV.

By Whitney Burdette, Capitol reporter

The House Education Committee will soon take up legislation chairwoman Amanda Pasdon says could change the course of education in West Virginia.

House Bill 2005 calls for alternative teacher certification — allowing professionals with degrees and extensive work experience to teach classes related to their fields in the state’s public schools — while House Bill 2014 would allow for charter schools. Pasdon, R-Monongalia, said her committee is working with the Senate Education Committee to run the bills within the next couple of weeks.

But these ideas aren’t new. Republicans have introduced similar legislation in the past, but the bills never gained much traction.

“They’ve been around for several years now and we’ve not been able to get them passed, get them moving,” Pasdon said. “I think it’s important now for us to look at those ways we’re out of step and we can be brought in line with other states.”

For example, Pasdon said teacher certification in West Virginia is more rigorous than in other states. So much so, she said, that teachers who can get certified here have an even better chance of meeting qualifications in other states. But that high standard presents a barrier that’s hard to overcome.

“You combine that with the lowest in the nation in pay, teacher pay, and you end up in the situation we’re in now,” Pasdon said. “We have 700 vacancies across the state. We have children sitting on bleachers for entire class periods because they don’t have anyone to teach class. It’s a struggle. We know we have an issue and we know it’s something we need to address.”

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin mentioned the idea, though not by name, in his Jan. 14 State of the State address. He said legislation would expand opportunities for skilled workers to have a place in the classroom.

“We need to find ways to streamline the process and encourage those who have a passion to teach so they can share their knowledge with our kids,” he said in his speech. “We must give local school systems better flexibility to train and hire subject-matter experts to fill long-term vacancies in critical subject areas.”

Another way school systems can exercise flexibility is through public charter schools. Pasdon said West Virginia is just one of seven states that doesn’t allow for charter schools. She pointed out the legislation wouldn’t mandate these schools, but it would give counties another option.

“This is not a new concept, it’s been around for several years,” she said. “As we are looking at it again now and taking a fresh look, we’re to see since the first time we introduced charter school legislation in the West Virginia Legislature through today, there have been 20 additional states to pass charter school legislation. We have the opportunity to learn from the best around the nation. We see what’s worked, what hasn’t worked. What we’re doing is crafting legislation that incorporates those best practices.”

Pasdon pointed out public charter schools have been successful in Maine, a state about as rural as West Virginia, and in New Orleans, which has a similar socioeconomic makeup as some areas of the state.

The legislation calls for local buy-in from county officials, boards of eduction, principals and parents. Counties would have to craft a plan for charter schools, including finding a location or funding for a new building. County boards could add charter schools to their levy requests as well.

“Allowing counties that flexibility to come up with their own plan and say we want a public charter, this is what we want it to look like, this is how we’ll get there and move forward from there,” Pasdon said. “I think it’s important when you talk about public charter schools that it comes from the local leadership because those are the models that are successful. We have to be sure the community is ready to take on a public charter and is willing to put the blood, sweat and tears into it and will truly make it a success story.”

If the legislation passes as-is, students would be chosen for these public charters through a lottery system. They’d be required to meet the same federal standards as students in traditional public schools as well.

Pasdon admits getting these bills passed might be difficult, but she’s confident West Virginians want to see a change in the educational system. According to a poll Pasdon has seen, 98 percent of West Virginians consider jobs a top priority, with education coming in a close second at 96 percent.

“I understand change is difficult. Change is difficult for everybody. We all know that,” she said. “West Virginians voted for change. That was obvious in this election.”

Pasdon said the Senate Education Committee will work its version of charter school legislation in the next couple of weeks while her committee will start on alternative teacher certification legislation this week.

Contact writer Whitney Burdette at 304-348-5149 or whitney.burdette@dailymailwv.com. Follow her at www.Twitter.com/wburdette_DM.