Liz McCormick Published

Student Rescue Act Aims To Help W.Va. Pupils Whose Grades Plummeted During Pandemic

House Education Minority Chair Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, (left) speaks with House Education Chair Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, (right) during a committee meeting on March 16, 2021.

A bill to help K-12 students in West Virginia catch up on schoolwork following the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is moving through the West Virginia House of Delegates.

The House Education Committee advanced HB 3217, or the Student Rescue Act, Tuesday evening.

It would provide kindergarten through 12th graders with concentrated summer courses to make up for instruction time, class credits and grade level specific-skills lost due to the pandemic. The law would also apply to any future pandemic or natural disaster that lasts longer than 21 days.

State and federal funding would pay for the courses, teacher and administrative pay, building upkeep and transportation. However, if there is no interest among parents or students, county school boards would not be mandated to offer the summer courses under the Act.

“Every county right now is not offering some type of summer remediation program that our kids need and deserve, quite frankly,” House Education Minority Chair Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said. “So, this not only sets forth, even in the current pandemic, but in the future, if there’s some type of natural disaster — I know a lot of times we have flooding throughout the state — that we can offer these to our children to make sure that they’re caught up in school, and that they can keep up with their scholastic efforts.”

Hornbuckle is the bill’s lead sponsor and first mentioned the idea of the Student Rescue Act during a legislative lookahead event in early February.

Del. Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, a school teacher who taught during the pandemic, reflected on the difficulties he saw among his own students as well as others around the state.

“What we’ve seen happen is students’ reading levels have fallen, their math abilities have fallen, and then our high school students, who needed the classes to graduate, many of those were not getting the resources or the encouragement and the supervision they needed,” Thompson said. “This would ensure that they can make up those credits so they can get back to grade-level reading and mathematics.”

The Student Rescue Act passed unanimously out of the House Education Committee and will now be considered in House Finance.

House Education Chair Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said in committee there is not a fiscal note for the bill at this time, but he said one could be available when it’s considered in the House Finance Committee.

The West Virginia Department of Education reported that in fall 2020, one-third of K-12 students in West Virginia failed at least one core subject due to the inconsistencies in learning models as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.