Chris Schulz Published

Special Education Staffing, School Athletics Discussed In Education Committees

A soccer player readies to kick a ball across the field.
Senate Bill 813 would allow students to participate in non-school competitive activities and remove restrictions on external teams as a condition for playing for a school, team or sport. 
Hero Images/Getty Images

The House Education Committee moved to address a critical shortage of special education staff, while the Senate Education Committee took a rarely seen action in their meeting. 

Wednesday was the first ever Special Education Day at the Capitol, and the House Education Committee took the opportunity to move House Bill 4902

The bill would first raise the pay of special education aides to match the pay of “Early Childhood Classroom Assistant Teachers” created by last year’s Third Grade Success Act. And then it would give special education aides a 5 percent raise on top of that. 

The bill also gives a 10 percent raise to Special Education Teachers in self-contained classrooms, where students with the most complex needs, who require the most support, are placed.

Another component of the bill that required board members who are certified in the subject area of a critical vacancy to go to the classroom and fill that position until someone is hired to do so was removed by amendment during the meeting.

Bill sponsor Del. Elliot Pritt, R-Fayette, said he agreed with the amendment because it left the most important action intact.

“We have people sitting in board offices at desks who are qualified to do jobs in the classroom, while we have critical vacancies in classrooms, across counties,” he said. “And all this would have done is tell them, hey, if there’s an empty critical vacancy, you have to be in the classroom till it’s filled. And you want to talk about lighting a fire under somebody’s rear end to aggressively try to find someone to fill those positions. You make them leave their office to go into that position for a while.”

The bill was voted to the House floor, but first with a recommendation to the House Finance Committee. The bill does not have a fiscal note at this time, and Del. Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, urged his colleagues on that committee to take HB 4902 seriously. He said it was one of the issues he hears most about from his constituents. 

“This is something that’s needed. It’s at a crisis level, the shortage that we have in our special education classrooms,” Pushkin said. “I certainly hope that they prioritize this bill. I know it’s late in the session for us to take this up, but better late than never. So those of you that are on the Finance Committee, get on it.”

House Education also discussed and advanced:

  • HB 4829, Relating employment of service personnel and removing the requirement for a high school diploma or general education development certificate.
  • HB 5425, Granting a waiver to fill certain professional educator positions of employment when no applicants have six or more years of experience.

In Senate Education

The Senate Education Committee met Thursday morning and took a rare action to reconsider an amended bill that they had recommended to the full Senate Tuesday.

Senate Bill 813 would allow students to participate in non-school competitive activities and remove restrictions on external teams as a condition for playing for a school, team or sport. 

Sen. Mike Oliverio, R-Monongalia, rescinded his amendment extending the bill’s provisions to coaches, allowing them to coach multiple teams. Speaking to the broader bill, he gave the example of a cheer squad that could not cheer for their school’s basketball team all season because their competitive team season had a slight overlap.

“I think the goal of this bill is to give opportunities to children, but also give flexibility to parents to be able to decide what activities they will allow their children to participate in which ones will drive them to the school or locations for,” Oliverio said. “I think there’s some good that can come from this bill.”

The unamended bill was once again recommended to the full Senate.

Senate Education also discussed and advanced:

  • SB 842 – Modifying training requirements for county boards of education members
  • SB 859 – Limiting requirements for issuance of professional teaching certificate
  • SB 861 – Increasing support and professional development for educators