Senate Set to Vote on Bill for Legislative Oversight of Future Education Changes

Mar 23, 2017

Update Friday, March 24, 2017: Senators have approved Senate Bill 18, 18-16, with four Republicans joining their Democratic colleagues to vote against it. 

Senators will vote on a bill Friday that will give lawmakers the authority to approve all change to education standards and aligned standardized testing to be required in West Virginia schools after an amendment to a bill on the chamber floor Thursday.

Senate Bill 18 as introduced would have required West Virginia students take the ACT and ACT Aspire standardized tests rather than the Smarter Balanced Assessment that's aligned with Common Core standards, but Republican Sen. Patricia Rucker amended the bill to require legislative oversight.

“The point of the amendment was to clarify what the intent of the legislation was, which was that we would have assessments in West Virginia not tied to Common Core standards," Rucker said during debate on the floor. 

Her amendment sparked pushback from Democratic members of the chamber who pointed to a variety of reasons not to include the language.

“As 34 members of the senate, we’re going to assess standards now, we’re going to bring those standards back here to a legislative body," Sen. Bob Plymale said. Plymale said lawmakers should trust the state's education experts to make those kinds of determinations.

Sen. Kenny Mann, the Senate Education Committee chair, speaks against the amendment on the floor during questions from Sen. John Unger.
Credit Will Price / West Virginia Legislative Photography

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso said in meetings with representatives of the state Department of Education, he was told even though the West Virginia Board of Education had already voted to stop using Smarter Balanced after this school year, the amendment would require the state to write a test of its own, costing $10-12 million.

“We want to allow our local boards of education to control this curriculum, that’s what you stand for, that’s what I stand for and that’s what this amendment tries to defeat," Sen. Mike Romano said after questioning Rucker about the amount of local control county boards could have if her amendment was adopted. 

The Senate's Education Committee Chair, Sen. Kenny Mann, was questioned about the bill and admitted he would not vote for the legislation if the amendment was accepted by the body.

"I've beat this dead horse," Mann said. 

Republican Sen, Robert Karnes argued the amendment was not taking power away from the state or local county boards of education, but was inserting the Legislature into a process which they have a Constitutional right to oversee.

“Common Core was a major issue [in the last election]. The people of the state West Virginia wanted their elected officials to be involved in that particular issue and the way it was adopted. This amendment says that not only are we going to do what our constitution wants us to do, but what the people of West Virginia clearly want us to do and that is to be an active participant in how the children in the state of West Virginia are going to be educated. This is a good amendment it makes it clear that never again will such a standard be adopted without the review of the elected bodies of the state of West Virginia.” -Sen. Robert Karnes

Rucker's amendment was accepted by the body on a 21-13. Mann was the only Republican to vote against it. 

The bill will be put to a final vote in the Senate Friday.