Chris Schulz Published

Apprenticeship, Absenteeism Discussed In Education Committees

A welder wearing a safety helmet works with an arc welder as sparks Stock

Everyone wants to get credit for their work, and for years legislators and educational leaders have said vocational apprentices have gone unnoticed for theirs. A bill in the House of Delegates is working to give those trade workers academic credit, while a Senate bill is trying to get to the heart of the state’s student absences. 

According to federal data, West Virginia has one of the lowest educational attainment, or levels of post-secondary education, in the country. But educational leaders and lawmakers like Del. Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, believe that rating is artificially low.

Rohrbach is lead sponsor of House Bill 5435. He told the House Education Committee Wednesday the bill would allow people completing apprenticeships to receive an associate degree in applied science.

“One of the things that I know the speaker and I feel very strongly about is, we need to get that recognition because I don’t accept the fact that West Virginians aren’t educated,” Rohrbach said. “These folks are just as educated as anybody coming out of any other college and this is going to be a track that they can get an associate’s degree or certificate program, whichever they choose. And that will get our college attainment rates up to where they should be, frankly.“

Apprenticeship programs from any trade or industry will qualify, provided the program is recognized by the U. S. Department of Labor. Apprentices will be required to complete 15 credit hours of general education courses.

Del. Rolland Jennings, R-Preston, expressed concern that apprentices at smaller businesses and operations will be excluded.

“My heartache with it is, I can see a lot of small companies not being recognized under the federal guidelines,” he said. “And so their people won’t have this opportunity. Because they can still test and get their license. But they’re not going to be eligible because they’re not recognized through the federal government as an apprenticeship program. And so now they can’t use this.”

The committee ultimately recommended the bill to the full House, but first referred it to the Committee on Finance. 

The House Education Committee also discussed and moved forward four other bills, including reconsidering two bills that had previously passed the committee.

  • HB 4919, Relating to the Promise Scholarship.
  • HB 4951, To facilitate the interstate practice of School Psychology in educational or school settings.
  • HB 4986, Relating to computer science and cybersecurity instruction for adult learners.
  • HB 5262, Relating generally to teacher’s bill of rights.

Chronic Absenteeism

In the Senate Education Committee Thursday, senators discussed a bill to address chronic absenteeism among students.

Chronic absenteeism is defined as missing 10 percent of the school year or more, which amounts to 18 days. State Superintendent Michele Blatt told the committee a third of all students in West Virginia are considered chronically absent, reflecting a rising national trend.

“We have about 34-35 percent of our students that are chronically absent,” she said. “When you’re missing one to three days a month out of instruction, you’re not only getting behind yourself, but our teachers are having to struggle to catch that child up while continuing to move forward with the rest of the class. So it has a huge impact on the achievement really, of all students in the school when we’re dealing with these chronic absenteeism issues.”

Senate Bill 568 changes the focus from counting truancy and unexcused absences to a multi-tiered system of support with emphasis on all absences, both excused and unexcused. Attendance officers would be required to make contact with parents and guardians as soon as three absences of any kind were recorded.

Blatt said currently, attendance staff are occupied primarily with record keeping and documenting absences.

“It frees up our attendance directors, counselors, social workers and those people in our in our counties to truly focus on what’s causing this chronic absenteeism issue and what are the things that we need to put in place because so much time in the past has been tracking whether it’s an excused or unexcused absence, and the bottom line is if they’re not there, they’re not getting instruction,” she said.

The bill now goes to the full Senate for its consideration with a reference to the Judiciary Committee.