Looking Ahead at the Legislative Session

The 2019 Regular Legislative Session begins on Wednesday. That evening the governor will also present his State of the State address and proposed budget. To be perfectly honest, this will be another challenging legislative session. Many lawmakers in the majority and majority leadership are looking for some payback for last year’s strike. They have already announced they plan to introduce legislation that will weaken public education and harm some of our most vulnerable students. Through Senate President Mitch Carmichael’s appointment of Senator Patricia Rucker as the chair of the education committee, Senate leadership has also shown that they plan to waste no time in trying to ram these misguided and flat-out disastrous proposals through. 

In addition to fighting bad policy, we must also keep lawmakers’ feet to the fire to make good on their promises from the strike to find a dedicated, long-term funding solution to PEIA, improve educator salary and benefits, and increase funding for public education. 

This legislative session, it is critical that you stay informed about what’s happening in Charleston regarding public education. There will be times when WVEA leaders issue calls to action when bad bills start to move or when good bills stall. We must answer those calls to action by telephoning our lawmakers, emailing them, and even personally visiting them at the capitol if need be. 

It’s also critical that we are all informed with accurate information. Be wary of information that comes from non-reliable sources or hearsay on social media. For accurate information, check WVEA’s Lobbyline. Lobbyline is a daily briefing of the day’s events in the legislature regarding public education. It is posted nightly during the regular session. WVEA also publishes a weekly legislative update that can be found on their main website.

You can also sign up for text/SMS alerts and critical email blasts through WVEA. WVEA is active on social media and uses the medium to post breaking or important news. “Like” WVEA on Facebook and follow WVEA on Instagram and YouTube. Then share WVEA’s posts with your social media network to help spread the word. WCEA will also post regular legislative and policy briefings on their website and Facebook as well. 

In December, members of the WCEA Executive Committee and affiliated PAC Steering Committee met with our local legislators to talk about public education issues specific to Webster County. We spoke for over two-hours with State Senator Bill Hamilton and Delegate Caleb Hanna. It was made clear that Webster County educators will be watching their votes and policy actions closely and expect their full support for public education. Both lawmakers expressed support to find long-term funding solutions for PEIA, increasing salaries, allowing all employees regardless of hiring date to be able to use accrued sick days for PEIA at retirement and years of service, opposing vouchers and charter schools, increasing funding for school-based social support and mental health services, and more. Some of the local-specific items discussed included:
– Recruitment and retention issues for educators in sparsely populated counties like ours. Providing additional incentives like moving assistance, housing down-payment assistance, etc. and things that are similar to the private sector and federal agencies.
– Increasing opportunities for at-risk students at programs like Mountaineer Challenge Academy.
– Need for additional alternative education programs and resources at the middle and elementary school levels.
– Students being pulled from public school for homeschool to escape truancy or legal issues.
– Opposing the Tim Tebow Bill that would allow homeschooled students to participate in school-sanctioned sports.
– The many facilities issues in our county from the need for an auxiliary gym at the high school, HVAC concerns countywide, major renovations needed at Glade, safety upgrades at Webster Springs, and more.
– The desperate need we have for social workers and mental health help for our students.
– Funding to provide more CTE programs and opportunities.
– Funding state-mandated CTE co-curricular student organizations.
– Decreasing the local share of the state aid formula which leaves sparsely populated counties like ours with less local money to supplement services beyond state minimum levels.
– The need for Prevention Resource Officers at all schools.
– Keeping extra and co-curricular programs such as CCLC, GEAR UP, etc. once those grants expire.
– Ensuring available funding so students and parents don’t have to pay the tuition cost for dual credit and AP courses out-of-pocket. Webster County is one out of only two counties statewide that fully fund student dual credit and AP tuition costs.
– Fixing issues regarding ECCAT seniority. 
– Lowering class sizes across the board. Many core academic course sections at the high school have 35 or more students. There are also several elementary classes that are at maximum capacity. 

Senator Hamilton and Delegate Hanna encouraged all educators to keep the lines of communication open with him and to let them know your thoughts on bills that begin moving throughout the session. Senator Hamilton said the best way to contact him is to call his capitol office and leave a message saying your name, phone number, that you live/work in Webster County and are an educator, and your issue.  He said he hasn’t been assigned a senate wing office or phone number yet, but will pass it along as soon as he knows.

Delegate Hanna also said to call his capitol office and that as soon as he is assigned an office phone number that he will pass it along. Both also said they will be reachable on email as soon as their legislative emails are assigned.

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