CHARLESTON – Surrounded by school children, Gov. Jim Justice signed several bills Tuesday to improve reading and math proficiency, make public schools safer, open up curriculum to greater transparency, and provide a dual enrollment program for high school students.
Justice signed four bills Tuesday morning at Leon Elementary in Mason County, joined by Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Amy Nichole Grady, R-Mason, who teaches at the school. Justice also brought his English bulldog Babydog.
“This is something you get to witness that most kids don’t get to take part of,” Grady said. “It’s really cool, because he’s right here in our school.”
Grady was the lead sponsor of a bill, the Third Grade Success Act, that was put into House Bill 3035, relating generally to high-quality education programs and school operations.
“I don’t blow smoke at anybody. I don’t have time for that, but (Grady) is great at her job,” Justice told the students. “Her heart is in the right spot, and she’s stuck on ‘on’ all the time.”
HB 3035 requires the state Board of Education to develop screeners and benchmark assessments in English language arts and mathematics for students in kindergarten through third grade, as well as a multi-tiered system of support for students exhibiting substantial reading or math deficiencies to ensure students are proficient before moving past the third grade. The bill also allows for teacher aides and interventionists in early elementary classrooms up to third grade.
“What we want to have happen is we want to ensure that all of you – every single last one of you – gets off in school to a great start and you’re able to master certain skills that will absolutely take you off in a really, really good way,” Justice said. “We don’t want anybody behind.”
House Bill 3369 creates a school safety unit within the Department of Homeland Security’s Division of Protective Services. The new unit would conduct inspections of public schools to determine the schools are following all established safety protocols. The bill is a response to school shootings across the country.
Senate Bill 422 requires public schools to publish curriculum online at the beginning of each new school year. The bill requires curriculum to be posted to the school’s website or a county board of education website with online access for students, parents, or guardians. It also allows parents/guardians to inspect instructional materials. The bill also creates a complaint pathway for parents/guardians.
And House Bill 2005 creates a dual enrollment pilot program supervised by the Department of Education, the Higher Education Policy Commission, and the Council for Community and Technical College Education. The pilot program would allow high school students to receive both credits toward their high school graduation and college credit for specific eligible courses.
Leon Elementary students wrote out questions for Justice to answer, with Grady putting the questions in a bucket and drawing each question. Justice was also presented with a book filled with stories written by the students about Justice and Babydog’s adventures.
“Thank you so much,” Justice said. “I’ll read every one, and I’ll treasure and keep this forever, I really will … you give me the energy that makes me go. I love kids beyond good sense. You make me really proud.”