The Legislature is only one month away from convening the 2014 Regular Session. In order to prepare for the upcoming session, interim committees met once again last week to discuss various issues and also review possible draft legislation that will be introduced during the regular session.

As Vice-Chair of House Education, my focus has been on numerous education topics including what is being done to improve the state’s overall education system after the abhorrent education audit the state received last year.

One issue that is of utmost importance in our schools is providing technology in the classroom. Representatives with Project 24 were on hand at one committee to provide an update on where West Virginia stands with regards to technology in the classroom. Project 24 is a statewide effort and is the first state in the country that has made it statewide initiative. All counties have been very cooperative and have participated in a survey on current technology in their schools. The goal of the project is to understand and encourage technology learning in schools.

Preliminary statistics from the survey given to the state’s counties show that 90 percent of schools believe digital content is providing a positive impact in education. However, 20 percent complained that there is limited access to technology. Approximately 40 percent of the state’s schools stated that they are formally planning on implementing technology in the classrooms but so far only 11 percent have done this. One thing that was shown is that there are many inequities in the state and that is something that we have to deal with. We have counties that can afford these technologies while many other counties don’t have the resources.

While our schools want to implement technology many counties lack the infrastructure necessary to provide these technology services. This is something that really needs looked at as we live in a technological age where it is becoming even more evident that our children must be able to effectively use computers and other devices in order to have a chance of success in the world.

A problem the state’s college student population has been dealing with is not graduating college in four years. Many of our college students are taking longer to graduate and therefore enter the workforce while also collecting massive amount of loan debt in the process. The Higher Education Policy Commission has been looking at the numbers and the main reason this is occurring is that many students are having to take developmental courses in college that do not count towards the credits they need to actually graduate. Developmental courses in college are for students who in high school struggled in Math and/or English. As a result, they have to enroll in developmental courses before they are allowed to take their core classes. The HEPC and Community and Technical College System (CTC) are looking at making developmental courses co-curricular options so that students get the supports they need while also receiving needed credits to graduate on time. The number of students having to take these developmental courses in college is disconcerting and raises the question as to why that number is large?

On the public education front, schools are implementing testing during a student’s junior year in high school to see if they need courses to help them in the subjects of English and Math during their senior year. The hope is that these students will receive courses during their senior year so that they will not have to take these developmental courses in college.

Dr. James Phares, State Superintendent, was on hand for the Joint Education committee to provide an update to the committee regarding the progress being made to answer some of the problems found in the education audit last year. So far, there are plans to reorganize the Department of Education with 27 positions altered or removed. Dr. Phares has also made trips to 49 of the 55 counties in order to get input from each county on what their thoughts and feelings are regarding education in West Virginia. The push is to give other education entities, more specifically at the local level, more power. Dr. Phares was very open with the committee and forthcoming with the efforts being made. He will continue to update the Legislature on the progress being made in cleaning up the state’s education system.

Next month will kick off three months of long and busy days in the Capitol city as the Legislature gets back to business. Until then, Merry Christmas and New Year!

If you have any concerns or questions, feel free to call my office at 340-3337 or write Delegate David Perry at the State Capitol, Building 1, Room 442M, Charleston, WV, 25305.