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No changes to WV governor's education reform bill from the House

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Five Republican-backed amendments to Senate Bill 359 were soundly rejected March 21 in the House of Delegates.

Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill was on second reading, a time when delegates can offer amendments to legislation. Amendments ranged from electronic textbooks to charter schools, but Democrats spoke against each of the amendments, saying the bill is fine as-is.

"My colleagues on the other side have sort of made it sound like they didn't have anyone in the room, they wore locked out of negotiations," said Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha. "If all these amendments were great ideas, then why in the committee process did they not raise one amendment? Why didn't they say, 'Hold on a second, this is what we want to do.'"

But Armstead said Guthrie's statement was "offensive." What is the second reading if not a time for those not in the committee to make amendments, he asked.

"It is quite frankly against the rules of what we're talking about to say we didn't make amendments in committee so we can't make amendment now," Armstead said.

A top-heavy system

Armstead, who is not on the House Education Committee, offered an amendment that would decrease the number of administrators in the West Virginia Department of Education. The education efficiency audit, released last year, pointed out West Virginia's education system is extremely top-heavy and much of the control lies within the department, not the local school boards.

Armstead supplied delegates with a handout from Public Works, the same firm who completed the audit, comparing the ration of West Virginia's administrator-to-student ratio to that of other states.

"We have one administrator basically for every 419.3 students," Armstead said, noting the much larger state of Virginia has one administrator for every 4,000 students. The amendment would mandate one administrator for every 2,000 students by 2016.

"We need to put more control and more resources," Armstead said. "I want you to think about the fact that these resources … could be placed back at the local level."

But Delegate Mary Poling, D-Barbour, chairman of the House Education Committee, said S.B. 359 already addresses the efficiency of the state Department of Education and mandates a 5 percent cut from the superintendent's personal service budget for each of the next two years, on top of the 7.5 percent budget cut Tomblin mandated of state agencies.

"A lot of what goes through the Department of Education is federal programs, people who staff federal funding that comes to us from Washington," Poling said. "Many of those things the department has promised, the governor has actually requested for them to start diverting resources back to the local agencies."

Delegate Josh Nelson, R-Boone, said he has heard from teachers in his district that not enough money is spent at the local level.

"The one thing they mentioned was the fact they did not feel the audit was accurately addressed," Nelson said. "They said while there are so many bureaucratic members in Charleston, their roofs are leaking at their buildings."

Armstead's amendment was rejected 44-52, along party lines.

Third bowl of porridge just right

Teacher evaluations have long been a bone of contention, and Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, added more fuel to the fire by offering an amendment that would tie teacher bonuses to evaluations.

By to Lane's amendment, teachers would be able to voluntarily participate in a program that would provide a $2,500 bonus based on the outcome of the evaluation. The evaluation would be made up of 50 percent student achievement, 25 percent from administration/peer observations and 25 percent from student surveys. The Department of Education would be responsible for formulating the evaluation and the student surveys.

But Poling said it's not fair to teachers to allow a portion of their evaluations and subsequent bonuses to be determined by students. In addition, evaluation systems currently are in place and are working just fine, she said.

"The new teacher evaluation process, which is ongoing and in its second year of piloting, will be implemented next year and will apply to all teachers and there's a similar process in place for principals and other administrators," Poling said.

She pointed out that it's hard to gauge student achievement in a variety of areas, such as the arts. In addition, this method would lead to low teacher morale and she did not see any long-term success tied to this type of evaluation.

But Lane said the current system of evaluating teachers doesn't work.

"We all know the fable of ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears'," Lane said. "The first bowl of porridge wasn't right. The second bowl of porridge wasn't right. That third bowl was just right."

"I'm not saying teachers are bad," he added. "I'm not saying we have rampant poor teaching techniques across the state. What I'm saying is let's use the most effective method of determining who the most effective teachers are, and let's award those who are most effective."

Lane's amendment was rejected 20-75.

"Charter ain't smarter"

From the outset, legislators have promised constituents bold changes to the education system. What better way to change the system than to allow charter schools, according to an amendment offered by Delegate Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan.

The lengthy amendment, titled the "West Virginia Public Charter Schools Act of 2013," would authorize the establishment of public charter schools that would "allow teachers the flexibility to design their own education environment and to provide a mechanism for discovering successful education practices that can be replicated in all public schools."

But not everyone was buying it.

Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, spoke against the amendment, saying many charter schools across the country are shut down because of negligent financial practices. They also don't support special education programs because those programs cost money.

"Charter schools don't want anything to cost any money because it hurts their bottom line," Moore said. "They're out to make money."

But it's about more than money, he said. Many delegates come from public schools and those schools provided a solid foundation.

"The vast majority of people in this room are products of public education," he said. "We wouldn't be where we are without public education.

"Charter ain't smarter."

Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, echoed Moore's statements. He has two daughters in the public schools system who are getting a great education, he said.

"Why don't we just stick with what we know will work … and improve it a little bit?" Swartzmiller said when speaking to oppose the amendment. "The tire has been round for a long time. It's been improved over the years, but it's still round."

But to Armstead, improving what is currently in place isn't going to cut it. He and other Republicans cited low test scores and low national rankings as reasons why bold reform is needed.

"We're 49th," Armstead said. "To say what we're doing is working, we just need to change it a little bit, it completely misses the point."

Cowles' amendment was rejected 18-78

The other two amendments proposed came from Delegate Cindy Frich, R-Monongalia, who moved to sustain the superintendent salary cap of $175,000. SB 359 removes that cap. That amendment was rejected 26-70. Delegate Ron Walters, R-Kanawha, moved to amend the bill to allow an electronic textbook pilot program, but Poling pointed out the superintendent already has the authority to begin such programs. His amendment failed 23-73.

SB 359 is scheduled for a vote tomorrow in the House of Delegates. It passed the Senate unanimously March 18.