By RYAN QUINN
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday signed a bill eliminating the current Regional Education Service Agencies and the state Office of Education Performance Audits.
After Wednesday night, bills that Justice has neither signed nor vetoed will automatically become law.
House Bill 2711 also will ban the current Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced standardized tests and the K-12 Common Core math and English language arts standards themselves.
But several West Virginia education officials have said they don’t believe HB 2711 actually would require the state Board of Education to change its current education standards. The state school board revised its standards, but they are still largely identical to the Common Core national standards blueprint.
HB 2711 also would give county public school systems the new right to make up entire missed school days with built-up extra instructional minutes.
The state currently allows school systems to use these “accrued” minutes to make up for only parts of days lost, due to late arrivals or early dismissals.
Justice, a Democrat, filed a version of the legislation in late February.
Before passing HB 2711, the Republican-led Legislature amended it by, among other things, adding the Common Core and Smarter Balanced bans, and removing Justice’s proposed $808 raise for every public classroom teacher in the state. .
HB 2711 would dump the eight Regional Education Service Agencies (RESAs), established in law in 1972, and the Office of Education Performance Audits, created in 1998. The state was estimated to save $3.7 million next fiscal year by nixing the regional agencies and $1.2 million by cutting the auditing office, but future possible savings or expenses are unclear.
The regional agencies are multi-county entities meant to aid county public school systems through, among other things, shared services and personnel.
The auditing office sends retired school administrators and current administrators into schools to assess factors including teaching of statewide education standards, student safety and principal leadership. The reviewers aren’t allowed to audit schools in the counties in which they work, and schools are made aware of the on-site review dates in advance.
Allen Brock, the office’s manager, said the office had only recently begun auditing every school in the state, and said over the past two school years it reviewed every public school and school system central office and was now set up to re-audit every school, central office and even RESA office once every four years.
Neither the regional agencies nor the auditing function may truly disappear under HB 2711.
County school boards would be allowed under the bill to form new regional agencies called “educational services cooperatives.”
And how far on-site school reviews would be reduced could depend on how much state education officials are willing to risk violating the state Constitution.
Under HB 2711, the state still could do on-site reviews similar to what the Office of Education Performance Audits conducted, but state Schools Superintendent Steve Paine said he thinks this will happen “only when absolutely necessary.”
Paine said you can run data like standardized test scores, graduation rates, attendance rates, suspension rates and students’ thoughts on a school’s climate through “statistical models” to identify who needs support.
The section of state law establishing the auditing office (18-2E-5) came out of the landmark Recht decision, which began in 1975 and dragged on until 2003. In the early years of the case, Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht ruled that West Virginia’s public schools failed to meet the state Constitution’s promise for students to receive a “thorough and efficient” education, and he ordered changes.
Sam Petsonk said eliminating on-site reviews would be contrary to the Recht decision. He’s an attorney for the nonprofit law firm Mountain State Justice, which represented the plaintiffs in the original Recht decision and is currently representing parents of Fayette County school children in a lawsuit using arguments based on Recht.
The Justice-appointee-dominated state school board previously stated it planned to get rid of Smarter Balanced.
HB 2711 will mean the state school board can’t backtrack on that pledge. The bill also includes language that will push the state school board toward adopting the traditional ACT as the state’s 11th-grade standardized test.
HB 2711 also will allow county school boards that extend their school days by at least 30 minutes beyond the state minimum requirements to use this accrued extra time to make up days canceled “due to necessary school closures.”
A county board also can use this extra time to plan “an additional five days or equivalent portions of days, without students present, to be used as determined by the county board exclusively for activities by educators at the school level designed to improve instruction.”
These changes represent a further weakening of the mandate for 180 “separate” days of instruction, which Justice’s predecessor in the Governor’s Office, Earl Ray Tomblin, had implemented through his own broad K-12 bill. The mandate only took effect two school years ago.
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