By Ryan Quinn

Legislators have approved removing from a bill a mandatory repeal of the state's Common Core standards -- following great opposition from state education officials, who said the legislation could disrupt West Virginia's entire K-12 system, cost more than $100 million and threaten federal funding.

In voice votes Monday with an unclear number of lawmakers saying nay, members of the Senate Education Committee approved and sent to Senate Finance a rewrite of House Bill 2934. The changes remove the mandatory repeal of the Common Core math and English/language arts teaching requirements and the possible required repeal of other standards -- including an amendment intended by its sponsor to stop the adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards.

The bill, if passed by the full Legislature, now would only require state Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano to conduct a "comprehensive review of the standards." The review is meant to, among other things, ensure the standards prepare Mountain State students to enter colleges and careers and ensure educators are given enough training and professional development to meet the standards.

The state would be required to establish English/language arts and math standards review committees composed of teachers, parents, principals, lawmakers and others to assist in the review. The bill would require four regional town hall-style meetings on the issue, and the public would also be allowed to participate in the review through an "online review and comment platform."

At the conclusion of the review, no later than Jan. 1, 2017, the superintendent would be required to recommend to the state school board any necessary changes to the math and English/language arts standards "necessary to assure that the standards are college and career ready." The state Department of Education has argued that the standards are already deemed as such, but Martirano has expressed a commitment to review them to assuage concerns from lawmakers, educators and the public.

The bill would require West Virginia to cease after the 2016-17 school year using any standardized tests from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. The legislation then oddly qualifies that by saying "unless the Legislature amends the Code before that time to allow continued use of the assessment."

States have joined those two standardized testing groups to give exams on Common Core standards -- West Virginia is set to give a Smarter Balanced version for the first time this spring, though the state will delay, for at least this school year and the next, labeling schools with its new A-F grading system, which is based in part on the test.

The Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability will be required to oversee the bill's implementation.

When asked how the current version of the bill came about, Sen. Donna Boley, the Pleasants County Republican who has been perhaps the most vocal repeal supporter, said "evidently, they worked on it over the weekend." She said she wasn't involved in the discussions.

She said a big obstacle was that Sen. Mike Hall, R-Putnam and chairman of the Finance Committee, likely was concerned about the expense the Department of Education estimated for repealing and replacing the standards and other related costs -- originally at $168 million, despite confusion on the part of department officials and others over exactly what standards the bill would require to be ditched.

Hall said he wasn't involved in the rewrite of the bill, and only saw the amendment to remove the mandatory repeal at Monday morning's Education meeting. He said that while he had "nothing to do" with the current version of the bill, he did have concerns about the cost and wasn't sure whether it would pass in Finance or whether he'd vote for it.

Hall said he expects Finance to take up the bill Thursday, two days before the end of session. He said the Department of Education's estimated $2 million cost for the new version seems too high.

When asked if she was happy with the bill's current version, Boley said she was because "we were going to lose it if we didn't do something."

"Now we've got a study with hopefully the repeal at the end of it," Boley said. She's said repeal supporters have gotten people's attention for the first time.

"I think we've got people talking about it," she said. "For so long we were not able to talk about it."

But West Virginia Against Common Core -- a group Boley has been working with -- is not happy, according to posts on its Facebook page.

"Seems those behind the scenes have forced amendments to the bill that delay the repeal to do a study," the group wrote Monday after the vote. "We have never got to see these amendments. Senator [Dave] Sypolt, [Senate education chairman,] we hold you accountable for the delays and what appears to be a gutting of HB2934."

(c)2015 The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, W.Va.)