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K-3 bill goes through some drama, but passes at deadline

CHARLESTON — A bill meant to bolster educational resources for students in kindergarten through third grade had an adventure in the final days of the regular legislative session, but it finally passed at 11:34 p.m. Saturday.

Put down your No. 2 pencils. That’s 26 minutes ahead of deadline.

“I couldn’t be happier it’s going to be over with and we’re going to have something that’s going to help our students,” Senate Education Chair Amy Nichole Grady, R-Mason, said at the Capitol.

Both the House and Senate went into this legislative session making a priority of support for early-grade students. Leaders in each chamber wanted additional classroom support in those grades, along with additional resources and the ability to intervene for young students falling behind.

But delegates and senators had different visions on some specifics, and that made passing the final bill a challenge.

In the final days of the session, the House had passed an early-childhood bill in a format that it wanted. The House Education Committee then took an early-childhood bill that was passed by the Senate, called the Third Grade Success Act, took out all of the contents and, instead, amended in provisions to help students with dyslexia.

The Senate Education Committee, helmed by Grady, then responded by amending the Third Grade Success Act and the dyslexia provisions into yet another bill, House Bill 3035.

On the final day, the cliffhangers continued. The House of Delegates, on the floor, amended some changes into HB 3035.

House Education Chair Joe Ellington said the amendment restored a House provision for students to be at grade level in math by grade three, and it also restored flexibility for counties to phase in the placement of assistant classroom teachers in classrooms in schools where they are most needed to reach full implementation by 2026, rather than starting at first grade.

“From our position, that’s what we had in our original 3035,” Ellington, R-Mercer, said Saturday afternoon.
Delegates passed it again to the Senate. The Senate objected to some aspects of the switch and said so behind the scenes.

About 11 p.m. Saturday, the House backed out of the day’s earlier amendment and passed the bill again, sending it to the Senate for final passage.

Grady said it’s important to structure the bill so that additional classroom support rolls out first for the earliest grades, saying, “it makes a big difference to start at that kindergarten, first-grade level and work our way up rather than starting high and trying to fill in gaps where we need,” Grady said.

“The number one thing is to make sure it is the most successful piece of legislation that we can have, to make it the most effective and the best thing we have for our kids to make sure we get them caught up to where they need to be. The number one thing — does it help our students the most?”

Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, agreed Saturday afternoon that each chamber was working the bill with the intent of making it the best product possible.

The back-and-forth, he said, “makes us look at it with a fine-tooth comb, where we’re looking at everything.”

With each of the many steps toward passage, Statler was adamant the bill had to reach the legislative finish line.

“I think there’s great value. I think you’re going to see, across the state, it’s going to start putting some things in motion that are going to tremendously change education and the way we do it at the elementary level, the K-3 area,” said Statler, a vice chair of the House Education Committee.

“With all the things we’ve done this legislative session, had we left this bill behind, I would have considered this session a complete failure.”