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Student-teacher ratio, home-school bills WV House near passage


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia House of Delegates is on the brink of passing House Bill 3088, which would remove the cap on the number of students per teacher in sixth-grade public school classrooms.

Delegates also are close to passing House Bill 2589, which would allow home-school and private school students to attend county systems’ vocational education schools without being charged more than public school students.

Alongside moving those bills Monday from second reading to their third and final reading, delegates also moved to third reading House Bill 2196, which would allow home-school students to participate in West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission athletics.

Bernie Dolan, the WVSSAC’s executive director, said the organization includes every West Virginia public middle school and public high school, as well as certain private schools, such as Charleston Catholic High.

He said home-schoolers can’t take part.

“Our position, we’ve always held, is you should be in the school you’re participating for,” Dolan said. “Athletics are just a part of the school, and we just feel like, if you’re representing the school, you should be a complete student athlete for that school.”

The bill says home-schooler eligibility is limited to, among other things, “participation in interscholastic programs at the public secondary school serving the attendance zone in which the student lives.”

Even if these bills pass the House, they still must get through the Senate before they could head to Gov. Jim Justice for his signature or his veto.

Wednesday is “crossover day,” the deadline for when bills are supposed to be passed out of their houses of origin to survive this year’s legislative session.

The regular session ends at midnight April 8.

Aside from that House floor action, the House Judiciary Committee transformed House Joint Resolution 24 from a joint resolution into a mere resolution planning a study.

The version of HJR 24 that previously passed the House Education Committee would have put before voters a constitutional amendment that would have made six of the state Board of Education’s nine voting members elected officials. They’re currently all gubernatorial appointees.

The constitutional amendment voters would have been asked to approve would have let the Legislature approve or reject the rules and policies the state school board passes.

HB 3088, the bill nixing the sixth-grade student-teacher ratio, passed Friday out of House Education and wasn’t double referenced for the House Finance Committee to review. It would remove the requirement that sixth grade have no more than 25 students per teacher.

That’s the same cap for third, fourth and fifth grades. There are no caps for grades seven through 12.

The existing cap for grades three through six does have exemptions, including not applying to classes such as band and allowing up to 28 students per teacher in schools where the average ratio is still 25 students per teacher.

“I believe the intent of the bill is to simply make sixth grade consistent with seventh and eighth grade,” said House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson and the lead sponsor of the bill. Sixth grade is generally part of middle school, which also includes grades seven and eight.

“The feedback that we’ve received from our education leadership is that having a different ratio for one grade in a middle school, compared to the other grades, does present some challenges, as far as scheduling is concerned,” Espinosa said.

Christine Campbell, president of the state’s branch of the American Federation of Teachers union, criticized the bill.

“Our children have varying academic skills, learning styles and emotional needs,” Campbell said. “Increasing the number of students decreases the amount of individual attention each child receives. If the Legislature does anything to change class sizes, they should be reducing the number of students in each class.”

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