Education bill may have financial benefit for counties

The “omnibus education bill” that has made Republicans in the West Virginia state Senate so many enemies during the past few weeks isn’t what it used to be. House of Delegates members tinkered with a new and improved version — and there may be a lot for some area educators to like in it.

Money, to be specific.

Tyler County school Superintendent Robin Daquilante believes Senate Bill 451, the education measure’s formal name, could net as much as $2 million a year more for the schools she oversees. Marshall and Wetzel counties could do even better, she thinks.

I ran into Daquilante [Feb. 6], during a trip to Charleston. She’d been there talking with legislators about SB 451, which was approved by the Senate and handed over to the House.

Members of the House Education Committee already had made substantial changes to the version passed — by the narrow margin of 18-16 — by the Senate. I’m told by some lawmakers that delegates are likely to hold their ground on amendments to the bill.

What has Daquilante’s interest piqued is a provision in SB 451 relating to property taxes and the state school aid formula. Counties receive state funding on a per pupil basis, with several qualifiers. One is that if the value of taxable property in a county goes up substantially, state aid goes down.

Counties affected by the gas drilling and processing boom have lost state dollars because of the rule. One, Doddridge County, has so much energy activity that it gets no state aid.

Don’t feel sorry for the Doddridge County folks, though. They’re raking in so much energy money that their schools have the highest per-pupil spending in the state, at $18,376 (the state average is $11,485).

Counties in our area with gas and oil drilling and processing activity haven’t done that well, however. Most of the boom locally has been in Marshall, Wetzel, Tyler and Ohio counties. Per pupil expenditures for them, respectively, are $14,296, $16,867, $13.729 and $13,023.

In SB 451 is a provision that would have the effect of reducing some of the penalty some counties have suffered through state aid that was cut because of higher property values in those counties. Exactly how much restored state aid would result isn’t certain — but, again, Daquilante thinks it would be worth $2 million a year to Tyler County, with Wetzel and Marshall also being helped. I might add Ohio County to the list.

Another boon to small counties is contained in SB 451. Again, state aid is on a per-pupil basis. One complaint among smaller county school systems is that they have a certain amount of overhead not covered by the formula.

So SB 451 would require that any county school system with fewer than 1,400 students would get state aid equivalent to that many.

In our area, only Tyler County, with 1,291 students, would benefit. Eight others (Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Pendleton, Pleasants, Pocahontas, Tucker and Wirt counties) would be affected. The really small ones (Gilmer with 797 students and Pendleton with 932) could get a lot of help.

But is SB 451 going to be enacted? The three big unions for school employees hate it. So do some state board of education members. Gov. Jim Justice has vowed to veto it if in contains provisions for charter schools.

Ah, but charter school language in the original Senate version has been watered down dramatically. As the House Education Committee sees it, only two charter schools should be allowed, and then only on a pilot project basis. No online charters are provided for in the bill.

There have been other changes in the bill, too. One giving county school boards greater taxation authority was stripped out in the Senate. So was a controversial section allowing larger classrooms.

SB 451 has a chance, in other words — and some folks in smaller counties may be pulling for it.

Mike Myer can be reached at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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