Charleston, December 16, 2018: It’s been more than a decade since West Virginia’s school aid funding formula has been updated, and members of the state Board of Education are hoping to convince lawmakers to update it.
After months of discussion, board members voted this week to approve a six-pronged proposal they say will make the formula work for county school systems that continue to lose students and face greater challenges in educating children according to reports published in wvnews.com
“We determined six very pointed areas that need funding,” board President Dave Perry said Friday. “We also determined in this process that we have a very equitable school aid formula, but it is dramatically underfunded.”
The six recommendations are more like guiding principles rather than specific recommendations, Perry said.
The recommendations don’t say how much money should be allocated for each part of the proposal.
“We left that open for the discretion of the Legislature,” Perry said. “Obviously, none of us would expect that this would be funded 100 percent in the first year. But we would definitely hope that it will be looked at, and that it will start to turn this formula around and meet the needs of the students in the 21st century.”
The proposal would increase the number of funded “professional educations and service personnel,” and it asks for “adequate funding” for the state’s school facilities. It would also change teacher benefits to allow teachers to bank their sick days and time off.
The proposal also says that more funding is needed to meet students’ mental health needs, but that more funding should be directed toward hiring mental health counselors, guidance counselors, social workers, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists and psychologists.
More funding for career technical education is also need, according to the recommendation.
The proposal seeks to increase the reimbursement teachers receive to purchase supplies, which is currently $200 annually. This funding level has not changed for years. The Department of Education said in a news release the funding “has not kept up with the rising cost of materials and is inadequate for today’s classroom needs.”
This idea will likely prove popular with lawmakers. Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, has mentioned increasing this reimbursement for teacher upward of $500. He has mentioned this in passing during several interview when the topic of teacher salaries and health insurance benefits come up. Blair, who is the Senate Finance Chairman, has a central role in drafting the state’s annual budget.
When Perry took over as president of the board in July, he formed the select committee on school finance. He wanted to bring together all of the stakeholders, including union leaders, county superintendents, teachers, parents and state education officials.
The committee’s assignment was simple. First, decide if there’s a need for the school funding formula to change. If there is, Perry said, the group would decide who it should change.
Tom Campbell, a board member and leader of the committee, said that the group look at more than 30 different areas to consider which need more funding according to reports published in wvnews.com
Unlike the Governor’s blue ribbon commission on four-year colleges — which is also discussing funding formulas — this committee was Perry’s own idea and it was not formed at the direction of lawmakers or other executive officials. It’s unclear how many of the group’s proposals lawmakers might adopt.
Legislative leaders have already signaled they want to repeal the state’s business inventory tax. They tried to do that in the most recent session, but the idea fell by the wayside because of how it would have affected county governments and schools.
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said lawmakers will look at a way to ditch the tax without hurting the public school system. That could necessitate a change to how schools are funded when the next session begins on Jan. 9, 2019.