CHARLESTON – Hiring more teaching assistants, changing the way colleges and universities receive taxpayer money, and improving health insurance and pension benefits for teachers and staff are some of the wishes for the legislative session of 2022.
Lawmakers, higher education officials and teacher union officials argued for the initiatives on Friday during the West Virginia Press Association’s 2022 legislative outlook. The 2022 legislative session begins Wednesday at noon.
The annual Lookahead was scheduled to take place at the Culture Center in Charleston after attending a virtual event last year due to COVID-19, but a positive COVID infection among Press Association staff and Thursday’s snowfall evening sent the event back to Zoom.
Members of the press and lobbyists heard a panel on education issues on Friday morning. The only member of the Republican leadership team of the Senate and House of Delegates education committees who participated was Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia.
Statler is the new vice-chair of the House Education Committee, replacing former Putnam County Delegate Joshua Higginbotham. Higginbotham resigned to run for the State Senate in 2022.
Statler said House Republicans are working on a bill to hire and train assistants for first- and second-grade teachers. Following a model established by the state’s successful pre-kindergarten program, Statler said Republican lawmakers wanted to hire up to 1,800 teaching assistants at a cost of about $ 68 million.
Under the current bill, first and second grade teachers with more than 12 students would be required to have at least one classroom assistant. Statler said providing assistants will help students receive more individual attention from teachers.
“This bill, I think, will be extremely productive in this state, as it allows more one-on-one with the students” Statler said. âIt actually adds to the help we can give to these studentsâ¦ we know that building the foundation and education is essential for these students to have what they need, especially the reading skills for them. go forward. “
Last month, Gov. Jim Justice proposed a 5% pay hike for government employees, educators and school service staff starting in July with the new fiscal year. Justice also proposed a one-time bonus of 2.5% which would come into effect this year.
Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell, is a minority member of the House Education Committee and a retired science professor. He said more funds should be used to recruit and retain certified teachers. According to the state Department of Education, there are more than 1,000 vacancies for certified teachers in West Virginia.
“I am delighted that our teachers are expecting a raise in salary, but you know we should also be looking for ways to recruit these young people who are the brightest and the best” Evans said. âThe education people I’ve spoken to, especially the members (of the education council) and the teachers, they tell me that they just can’t fill the positions. â¦ We are losing our youngest; we lose them left and right. They come in, they spend a few years, and they decide it’s not for them. We need to determine what the problem is.
Senator Ron Stollings, D-Boone, is a minority member of the Senate Education Committee and a physician in his hometown of Madison. He called for using part of the COVID-19 federal dollars from the US bailout to boost funding for the Birth to Three program, which provides support to low-income families with limited access to developmental programs for their children.
“We don’t have a bad Birth to Three program, but we just need to put it on steroids, if you will, because that’s the only thing that’s going to save us later.” said Stollings.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, supported Justice’s proposed salary increase for public sector employees, although he also called for a cost-of-living adjustment for retirees. public sector employees. Lee called on lawmakers to raise salaries for teachers and school staff and make them competitive with neighboring states.
Lee also called for new solutions to fund the Public Employees’ Insurance Agency. Although bonuses have not increased for PEIA under Justice, Lee is concerned that public employees will not be so lucky under the next governor.
âIf you look at PEIA’s five-year plan, you see a premium increase of around 15%, and then another 9% premium increase for employees expected in the coming years. “ he said. âWe need to find a solution for PEIA.
Lawmakers will also consider creating two performance-based funding formulas to distribute more than $ 400 million in taxes per year from the general revenue budget to the state’s 10 four-year colleges and universities and nine community colleges and colleges. techniques, based on the Tennessee program.
“It will be just another bill that will really help”, Statler said. âColleges and universities will also have some certainty that they can continue, that they will not have to wait until the end of the session when a budget is voted to know approximately where their money will be now.
The current formula is being developed by the Higher Education Policy Commission / West Virginia Community and Technical College System, although lawmakers have been briefed on the progress. Once completed, lawmakers will be given a bill to approve.
Mira Martin, president of Fairmont State University and the West Virginia Council of Presidents, said the formula will determine state taxpayer funding for higher education institutions based on several education outcomes, including the number of students completing a set number of credit hours, university graduates, how colleges spend money on research, and the number of students entering the workforce.
“Together, these measures will allow institutions to directly help students graduate on time, while producing ready-to-use graduates who are able to meet the evolving economic needs of the state, thereby providing taxpayers a huge return on investment, while also ensuring that institutions continue to advance their unique missions in higher education for the public good â, Martin said.
Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at [email protected]