Changes made to Common Core bill in Senate

By Samuel Speciale, Education reporter

A bill prohibiting the West Virginia Department of Education from using Common Core was drastically changed on Monday when a group of state senators removed language that would have made repealing the controversial standards mandatory.

The rewrite of House Bill 2934 was approved by Senate Education Committee members, who will now send the bill to Senate Finance before it goes to the floor for debate.

Education chairman Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, said the bill now requires Superintendent Michael Martirano and a specially appointed committee to review the standards, collect public input at four town hall meetings across the state and report back to the Legislature in two years.

Those changes allow the state’s chief education officials, who have strongly opposed the bill and any attempts to get rid of Common Core, to make a future recommendation on whether the standards should be repealed or reformed, a drastic change from the mandatory directives the House approved last month.

“House Bill 2934 demanded immediate repeal by July,” Sypolt said. “That absolutely would have been disastrous for the education system.”

Common Core is a set of math and English standards that guarantees public school students across the country get the same basic education. They have become widely unpopular with conservatives in the years since then, and Republican gains in statehouses around the country has led to repeal attempts in nearly 20 states.

West Virginia was the second state to adopt the standards, which were retooled and renamed the Next Generation Content Standards in 2011. While the department has been criticized for how it implemented the standards, Common Core is generally supported by the state’s teachers.

Reviewing the standards is an alternative to repeal the department has suggested for weeks. Martirano, who has only been the state’s schools chief for six months, has said the Legislature should pause so he can have time to evaluate the standards.

The concession is a victory for the department, but Common Core in West Virginia may still be on the way out.

While the bill will halt repeal proceedings until Martirano reports back to the Legislature, it still prohibits the use of any Common Core-aligned student assessments. West Virginia students are set to take the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced Assessment for the first time this spring.

Because use of that test will be prohibited and the U.S. Department of Education requires that standards be aligned to student assessments, new standards will likely need to be developed regardless of what Martirano recommends, Sypolt said.

Unless further legislative action on the standards is taken, Sypolt said the department has until Jan. 1, 2017 to make its recommendation.

This is the second major amendment the committee has made since the bill passed the House late last month in a 75-19 vote.

Upon taking it up in committee, Sypolt referred the bill to a subcommittee of two Republicans and one Democrat. That subcommittee proposed last week that the department be given an additional year to carry out the bill’s mandates. The amendment ultimately did not get incorporated, and was instead replaced by Monday’s committee substitute.

Before the bill can make it to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s desk, it must first be passed by the Senate and go back to the House floor for approval before the session’s end on Saturday.

It still is not certain whether Tomblin will sign the bill into law though.

While Tomblin’s communications staff have refrained from using the word “veto” and say he will not make a decision until the bill has passed both houses, a representative from his office has said the governor supports education standards and the direction the state school board and Department of Education have taken.

Should the bill pass, West Virginia would be the fourth state to repeal the standards.

Contact writer Samuel Speciale at sam.speciale@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-4886. Follow him at www.twitter.com/wvschools.