Good Things Happen in West Virginia’s Public Schools

As we gear up for the special legislative session dealing with what the governor calls education ‘betterment’, we need to remind our friends and neighbors about the good things happening each and every day in our public schools. Here are some talking points you can use.

  • Our public schools are succeeding but everyone would like to see them improve and all our students achieving at a high level. Our public schools are far more academically challenging than in the past and the expectations for our students are high. We recognize that all students progress at different levels. They come into our public schools with different levels of preparedness and they will not all be at subject mastery at the same time. Standardized tests scores are not valid indicators of student success.
  • When you look at the top tier of states in terms of student achievement they have several items in common. Two of the most significant are the percent of students in poverty and the educational attainment levels of adults. States with the lowest percentages of student poverty and the highest percentage of adults with college degrees tend to score higher in student achievement.
  • WV has one of the highest incidences of children living in poverty in the nation. While that does not prevent a child from achieving, it often means that students start more slowly and need additional services to reach their full potential.
  • Society’s problems do not stop at the doors of our schools and our children’s focus is disrupted by what is going on in their family and surroundings. Our students are facing the highest numbers ever for those living in foster homes and living with someone other than a parent.
  • Our highest achieving students are quite competitive when compared with their peers in student achievement. And when you compare the student achievement of WV’s kids living in poverty against students in other states living in poverty, our students score exceptionally well.
  • Poverty and generations of low levels of educational attainment cannot be overcome quickly. WV is making progress but without the proper supports it has taken more time than any of us would like.

 

What can help our public schools improve?

  • Charters, ESAs and vouchers take funding away from our public schools and give it to other entities. We should focus on investing in schools where 90% of our children go and not diverting money to other education/privatization schemes.
  • Not only are these items not proven to improve student achievement, but many are proven to be divisive and will actually do harm to existing public schools and students by taking much needed funding away from our public schools.
  • We must provide a great public school for every student in the state regardless of their zip code. Improving public schools requires more resources, not less. Every student deserves a quality, well- equipped school where they can learn, be inspired and thrive.
  • If we are serious about improving our public schools then let’s look at proven reforms. This means creating schools with inviting classrooms, a well-rounded curriculum, class sizes that are small enough for one-on-one attention and support services such as health care, nutrition and after-school programs for students who need them.
  • Our students need extended day and summer programs; alternative education facilities; expanded vocational education options; additional specialists, including special education teachers, school counselors, nurses and psychologists; and resources to help parents and guardians.
  • Everyone wants to improve our public schools and there are many proven ways to increase student achievement. Many of the items introduced as reform measures by our legislators are not designed to improve our schools or the schools of any state.
  • We should invest in the things that are proven to make schools great and help every student achieve to their peak potential regardless of their zip code.

Funding for public education:

  • Funding for public education continues to fall. During the 1990s education was 57% of the state budget; it has dropped to less than 46% today. If the legislature had maintained funding levels, then money would be available to maintain competitive pay, provide adequate classroom supplies, lower class sizes, hire support services in our schools and offer more programs to our students.
  • The funding formula for our public schools has not been significantly changed in the past 40 years. Yet, the issues that our schools deal with mirror the changes in society. We need to be able to add nurses, counselors, social workers, safety officers and others without subtracting from the number of teachers and service professionals allowed in the formula.
  • West Virginia has significantly reduced the number of school buildings in the state through consolidation. But regardless of the number of buildings, they must be adequately maintained. Leaking roofs and antiquated HVAC systems desperately need to be replaced but there is no money provided in the formula for many of those costly repairs. Our public school cannot continue to limp along without proper funding. Our students suffer from the poor upkeep/air quality.
  • Many of the changes to public education introduced in recent years actually take money away from our schools. Charter schools, vouchers and education savings accounts all take money from our already strapped local school systems in order to assist a small number of students.
  • Legislators continue to talk about giving tax breaks to businesses. Those tax breaks harm our students and our public schools by taking money from the school systems. This session legislators actually reduced the coal severance tax taking over $60 million out of the state’s budget. This is money that can be used to meet the needs of our students and our schools.

Charters, Vouchers, and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs):

  • We need to improve our public schools and make quality education opportunities available to all students, not just a select few. To provide the opportunities for charters, vouchers and ESAs to a few select students, all public-school students will suffer as a result of decreased funding. Those programs will operate by taking much needed funds away from the county in order to fund the newly created program.
  • We should focus on investing in public schools where 90% of children go, not diverting money from them for the 10% who go to private or home schools.
  • After charters or vouchers or ESAs are created, and the funding is gone, our public schools are left without the state money but still have the same bills to pay. With systems struggling to make ends meet any additional loss of revenue would be devastating for the students and the programs offered.
  • Based on Census data, West Virginia ranks 50th in the percentage of adults with a bachelor’s degrees and 50th in the percentage of adults with an advanced degree. If we are to attract industry, we must provide a highly skilled and quality workforce. Hampering our already struggling schools by taking away funding will harm our ability to attract businesses and further weaken our state’s economy.
  • Vouchers, charters and ESAs do not reduce public education costs. Actually, they increase costs by requiring taxpayers to fund two school systems and their bureaucracies – one public and one public charter.
  • The term “education savings accounts – ESAs” is intended to deceive. It is not the type of account that parents can contribute their own money into (think of the Smart529 accounts). Instead, the money that goes into an ESA is money that has been reallocated from the public school budget.
  • Even with vouchers, most parents will not find it enough money for needed services or tuition at private schools for their children.

We Win!

I’m sure by now everyone has heard the news. We have won! We won everything we asked for and then some. However, we can’t rest on our laurels. We must keep a vigilant watch to ensure the PEIA task force comes up with a viable, long-term solution that doesn’t put more of the burden on our backs and we must keep an eye to make sure that the 5% raise for state employees is in the budget bill. Most importantly, we must continue to hold our elected officials’ feet to the fire this election. By now, we know who many of our enemies and allies are and we will continue to share pertinent information to help you make an informed decision with your ballot in May and November.

Here is a recap of today’s events:

The House and Senate made a deal this morning to increase the pay raise to 5% for all education workers, state police, and all state employees. This raise will kick in on July 1. There is a lot of misinformation and rumors about how it will be paid for and what programs will be cut. Here are the facts:

The pay raise is being covered with money that was already proposed in the governor’s base budget. request. It does not include the $58 million in increased revenue estimates that he submitted to the legislature last week. The total raises equal approximately $100 million. Here is a summary of cuts:

$46 million from commerce and tourism departments.
This is not a true cut. In the State of the State address, Justice proposed increasing those departments’ budgets. This will merely redirect that money from those agencies to the raise package.

$18 million from General Services.
The governor proposed increasing revenue in his original budget request for the Department of General Services to address deferred maintenance at state offices and buildings. The state has deferred so much maintenance for so long, that $18 million is a drop in the bucket of what is really needed. This can be reallocated next year or a broader package created to address this maintenance backlog.

$7 million from Community and Technical College system for free tuition.
This one sounds worse than it is. Earlier this session, the legislature passed a bill to provide what was supposed to be ‘free’ community college. However, that ‘free’ was actually last money in. That means that the state would pick up whatever was left after students had been awarded all grants and student loans for which they qualified. The low number sounds reminiscent of when the Promise Scholarship was created. Initially the Promise Scholarship was created and funded with very low budget numbers as a way to try to get the legislature to pass it. What happened a few years into its existence was that it continuously ran out of money due to those original low predicted budget numbers. This led to the Promise Scholarship having to be restricted, capped, and qualifications tightened. Letting this proposal sit for a year will give the Community and Technical College system a better chance to research the actual costs and come up with a plan for free tuition that doesn’t rely on students having to take out student loans to qualify for state aid.

$14 million from lottery surplus.

$12.5 million from Division of Highways budget redirect.
The part of highways’ budget that pays for maintenance and construction, which includes the local DOH garages, is self-sustaining from gas taxes, DMV fees, and federal funds. This $12.5 million has been automatically redirected for years from general revenue to highways and no one could really figure out why. With the road bond funds getting ready to kick in, this cut will be easily made up or absorbed by DOH and it won’t affect road maintenance or construction. Besides, $12.5 million would only cover about 4 paving projects of about 5 miles each if it actually went toward road maintenance or construction in the first place.

$13.5 million from Workers Compensation redirect.
This is money the state has been paying on a yearly basis the past decade or so to pay off the old workers comp system debt. This is debt left over from when the state privatized workers comp during the Manchin administration. This delays by one year making that payment and the debt is nearly completely cleared anyway.

$10-$20 million from Medicaid surplus.
This is the one that has been causing a lot of confusion and fear on social media and there is no reason for it. Last year, the state over-budgeted its Medicaid allocation by around $170 million. That money is now cash that’s sitting in a bank account. The governor is proposing to take $10-20 million of the surplus Medicaid cash that wasn’t spent and put it toward the raise bill. This will reduce the coming year’s Medicaid allocation by that amount. However, remember that that money was part of $170 million in Medicaid funds that wasn’t needed last year anyway. The state will never mess with its base Medicaid allocation anyway because of the federal match. The federal government matches all state Medicaid money on a 3-1 basis. Meaning for every dollar the state allocates toward Medicaid, the federal government provides the state with three additional dollars. Senator Blair made the Medicaid comment today in passing to try and continue to divide people and pit the public against us. There is no reduction in Medicaid services by the state. If Medicaid costs rise, the state will still have about $150-$160 million in surplus Medicaid money from which to draw. Now with that being said, the federal government can always decide to reduce or cut Medicaid on their level.

Now, the $58 million in increased revenue projections by the governor is still potentially in play. The House and Senate have said that if that $58 million in projected money comes through, they will go back and backfill some of those budget cuts listed above. Keep in mind that last year the legislature used $17o-or-so million in increased revenue projections to simply balance the budget and that money actually came through.

In the event you come across angry people in the community claiming we raided Medicaid or other budgets, please share the above factual information with them. Remember to maintain your civility and if they are just a complete jerk, walk away. As some of my relatives are fond of saying, ‘you can’t fix stupid.’

The PEIA task force meets for the first time next Tuesday and all appointments are expected to be finalized by Thursday. We will have to keep a close eye on the task force’s progress. They are required to hold public hearings in all 55 counties and those hearings will be announced at a later date. They can consider new and redirected revenue sources as well as alternatives to PEIA.

The governor has directed the state superintendent and state BOE to work with counties to come up with a plan to waive any or all of the makeup days for kids. We will have to wait a little bit to find more about specific details for our county. I have no doubt that Mr. Cochran will be asking the state BOE and superintendent to provide us some flexibility for these days.

We must keep our focus on the election to ensure that we have a better legislature that will be considering the task force’s recommendation next year. PEIA is frozen and the money is there. The only issue is a minor difference between the house and senate as to where the money will come from. But let me repeat that again, the PEIA moratorium/freeze/whatever you want to call is happening and will happen.

If you watched the senate floor session where they approved the bill, many of our enemies over the past few weeks couldn’t help but pat themselves on their backs and tell how much they love teachers and love public employees and support us all the way. This is pure postering that they will try to use to convince us during the election that they were really on our side all along. We have all had enough of an eye opening to be able to spot that for what it is. However, we have to keep our focus and sustained outrage going through the election and ensure that we vote for pro-public education candidates who will support us. Remember that we also need a pro-education legislature to begin working next year on a long-term wage and benefits package that will truly put us on a level platform with surrounding states.

As we move forward, please make sure to extend thanks and support to parents, community members, and businesses. Also make sure to thank Mr. Cochran and the other superintendents for sticking by us and not wavering through all this. This could have gone very ugly if they hadn’t preemptively called off school. We will wear red tomorrow, Wednesday when we go back to school so we can show our students our solidarity. Feel free to wear the bandannas, pins, etc. Kids are probably going to have a lot of questions, so please use this as a learning opportunity with them. Show them some of your campaign signs, talk about what you learned about the legislative process, labor movements, show them pictures, and more.

Please remember to send me any pictures you have taken for our strike photo album. If people are interested, I can possibly look into putting photo discs on sale for a nominal fee.

Several people have asked about the teacher from Roane County and how she is doing. The last word is that she’s doing a little better, but still has a long way to go. A fund has been set up by her family for donations. If you are interested, we can do another ‘pass the hat’ to raise money. If each county can provide $50, that will be $5500 for her. She came out of her 5th surgery yesterday. If you wish to make a contribution, it is through Premier Bank and called the Bonita Jane Schreckengost Fund and it is managed by her family member Jannette Reed.

Thank you again for all your help, support, and hard work through all this. When we began this, there was a lot of skepticism about whether Webster County would take an active role; including from me. You have shown the nation the power of collective action.

Something else to consider if you haven’t seen it yet on Facebook:
9 days of civil disobedience
Tens of thousands of protestors
0 violence
0 property damage
0 arrests

That shows the professionalism and dedication of West Virginia educators.

We are now a role model and inspiration for teachers and education employees everywhere. By standing up for ourselves we have shown elected officials and leaders that we will not suffer further mistreatment. Oklahoma teachers have now authorized a statewide strike over mismanagement and defunding of public education. Kansas teachers are considering a statewide strike for the same reasons. Kentucky teachers are in the process of organizing a statewide strike to due potential privatization of their retirement system. North Carolina and Arizona union leaders contacted Dale Lee over the weekend to discuss logistics of striking statewide as well. For decades, public education has been disrespected and defunded. This marks the beginning of us taking back our profession.

Grant Opportunity for Classroom Teachers

Grant Information: https://www.saveonenergy.com/teacher-grant/

Interested in winning $500 for your classroom? SaveOnEnergy.com® is looking for the best lesson plans for teaching students about energy or sustainability. We teach consumers of all ages about the many aspects of energy in our Learning Center through blog posts, videos and infographics. Plus, our Nico the Ninja guides help teach kids about electrical safety and energy savings.

Read moreGrant Opportunity for Classroom Teachers

PEIA Healthy Tomorrows Deadline is May 15

The deadline for completing PEIA’s Healthy Tomorrows reporting requirements for this year is May 15, 2016.

Participants who fail to meet the deadline will be subject to a $500 additional medical deductible. If you have a family plan, only the policyholder has to complete the Healthy Tomorrows requirements, not dependents.

Read morePEIA Healthy Tomorrows Deadline is May 15

Want to Reduce the Teacher Shortage? Treat Teachers Like Professionals

This article appeared in the NEAToday on August 26th, 2015. You can find the direct link here.

 Suddenly everyone is talking about the teacher shortage, thanks largely to a recent article in The New York Times that examined the measures districts are taking – including dropping certification requirements – to fill vacancies. Too many pink slips were given out during the recession, the economy is improving, the teacher pool is dry, so we need to recruit, recruit, recruit. End of story? Not so fast, says Richard Ingersoll, professor of education and sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. Ingersoll, who has been tracking the teacher profession for years, recently spoke with NEA Today about the nuances behind the teacher shortage narrative and why we need to turn the spotlight on keeping good teachers in the classroom.

Read moreWant to Reduce the Teacher Shortage? Treat Teachers Like Professionals