Justice submits his education reform bill

By Brad McElhinny
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice created a stir when he pulled out a blue folder during his inaugural address and said it contained his proposal to reform West Virginia’s education system.

Now the Justice administration is providing more detail about what that would mean. His proposals are included in Senate Bill 420, which was introduced today.

Justice says his goal is to flatten the management structure of the state school system and to empower local schools.

“West Virginia’s students and teachers are being crushed by a boulder of bureaucracy in Charleston,” Justice stated in a release about his education reform bill.

“Our local school districts and parents have lost control of what’s going on in the classroom. My plan will transform our public schools into a world-class education system that gives all of our students a shot at success and allows our teachers the freedom to teach.”
What he wants to do is multifaceted:
•restructure the state Department of Education and eliminate the need for the eight Regional Education Service Agencies, encouraging county boards of education to share services formerly provided by RESAs
•eliminate the Office of Education Performance Audits
•limit the intervention by the state school board into local school systems to “only the most extraordinary or dire circumstances”
•Make the 180 calendar day policy more flexible for local communities. This section is actually described as establishing a number of minutes or hours to be achieved. It also calls for providing up to five days in the school calendar that may be “reimagined” and used to meet the 180 separate days of instruction requirement
•create flexibility for instructional days, including reserved time for teachers to collaborate and plan lessons for their students
•Require state board to review/develop and approve a college and career readiness assessment to be administered in 11th grade and make it count toward statewide student assessment in English Language Arts, Math, and Science in said grade or as required by federal law and regulations
•End the A to F grading of public schools by amending school accreditation, accountability and school performance to include multiple measures

The governor’s bill includes his proposed 2 percent average raise for classroom teachers. It’s described this way: “Raise classroom teacher salaries and pay for it through reorganization and prioritization of educational programs at the State Department of Education.”

The elimination of the RESAs, which provide services like bulk-buying and regionalized training, is represented by a long section of strike-throughs. That section concludes:
“The regional education service agencies, previously established by this section, are hereby abolished on or after July 1, 2017.

“On July 1, 2017, all property, equipment and records held by the regional education service agencies necessary to effectuate the purposes of this article shall be transferred to the state board or to other appropriate entities as provided by law.”

Farewell, RESAs.

The governor’s bill would establish a county superintendents’ advisory council, meant to promote collaboration among districts. The council would be divided among four districts.

The councils would share the administration of some services, such as the oversight of programs for exceptional students, professional development and billing for school-based Medicaid services.

The state Office of Education Performance Audits is also wiped out in the governor’s proposal.

Instead, “the state board may employ individuals, who serve at the will and pleasure of the state board, to coordinate on site and school system improvement efforts with staff at the State Department of Education to support schools and school systems in improving education performance measures.”

The governor’s proposal says the state board will produce standards about what to do about school systems that aren’t thriving.

When “extraordinary circumstances” exist but don’t rise to the level of immediate intervention, the proposal states, the state board can declare an emergency and identify direct designees to recommend corrections.

If that doesn’t work, the state board would intervene by limiting the authority of the county board, removing the county superintendent and declaring other personnel positions vacant, possibly then refilling them with the original employee or someone new.

The governor’s proposal takes away the power of the state superintendent to act directly in some of these matters, placing the power with the state board.

The state board could still act immediately in the operation of a county school system.

In those cases, the proposal says, the state school board or its designee, the state education department, and the county school system would work collaboratively to improve.

Without the Office of Education Performance Audits, the state school board would appoint a designee to assess the local school system’s readiness to return to normal. If an intervention lasts beyond five years, public hearings would have to be held.

Justice said he would make education a priority. His office released a statement underscoring his intention.

“Charleston thinks it knows what’s best for our kids, and after meeting with educators and parents around the state it’s as clear as day that the bureaucrats have no clue about what’s really going on,” Justice stated.

“We’ve proven how to be 50th; it’s time to restructure and rebuild our school system from the bottom up.”