Mariah Burnley, owner of the Ohio Valley Child Learning Center, with her son Noah. Photo by Allen Siegler.

Today was the last day for bills to be introduced in the House. The Senate deadline is on Monday.

It’s also Valentine’s Day! Scroll down for more on the love (and high blood pressure) in the air at the Capitol.

But first, child care providers were in town today to argue for a bill they say would help increase the number of available slots and help more parents get their kids in care.

Child care providers push for enrollment-based subsidies

When Mariah Burnley got pregnant, she knew she had to start planning for her child’s future immediately. As someone who works to promote early childhood education, the Ohio County resident was aware of how difficult it can be to get a child care slot.

“The night that you conceive, you need to call the next morning to get on a waitlist,” Burnley said. 

But even despite putting her unborn son on a waitlist, it took three years before a child care slot opened up. Now a mother of three children and the new owner of the Ohio Valley Child Learning Center, Burnley spent Valentine’s Day at the Capitol with her two-month old, Noah, and child care workers across the state lobbying for bills that support families and providers. 

“When our communities and the economy needed us, child care was there,” said Tiffany Gale, the owner of a center in Weirton, in a speech at the Capitol’s lower rotunda. “When school was closed, child care was there…for the doctors, for the truckers, for the farmers, for the grocery store employees and every worker in between.”

Many providers said their long-term vision is to make child care subsidies universal for anyone who needs them; but given the reality of the Legislature’s budget, their main goal this session is to get lawmakers to pass a bill to base child care reimbursements on enrollment, rather than attendance. While the measure passed the House Health and Human Resource Committee last month, it has yet to be heard by the House Finance Committee. 

Kristy Ritz, the West Virginia Association for Young Children executive director, said that by changing the reimbursements from attendance to enrollment, the bill would create more financial stability for providers. That, in turn, would allow providers to increase their child care slots, helping parents like Burnley avoid years-long waitlists. 

And if more West Virginia parents can get their kids in care, more parents can work, according to Ritz.

“We will be supporting small businesses, large corporations, working families, everyone,” she said.

House Finance Committee Chair, Del. Vernon Criss, R-Wood, didn’t answer an email inquiring whether he would hear the bill in his committee; if he does take it up, there are about two weeks left to do so before the deadline. 

Burnley feels that it is essential that the bill is codified this session. Not just for providers, but for all working parents like herself.

“Child care is the foundation to what comes next,” she said. “Without it, everyone suffers.” —Allen Siegler

At the heart of it

Del. Clay Riley, R-Harrison, has his blood pressure taken on Tuesday. Photo by Perry Bennett/WV Legislative Photography.

It’s Valentine’s Day, which also coincided with Heart Association Day at the Capitol. That means anyone who happened to be in the rotunda could get a free blood pressure test.

While comprehensive data from the tests wasn’t available, Marshall University nurse practitioner Andrea Roberts had some initial observations. No surprise, “it felt like people who were involved in the session had, on average, higher blood pressure than the visitors,” she said. —Ian Karbal

Young student literacy bill clears major hurdle

One version of a major education bill has passed the Senate, and now goes to the House where a similar bill is already under consideration.

SB 274 aims to improve early grade literacy by training teachers in phonics-based reading instruction that has proven effective in other states and providing more teachers’ assistants in kindergarten through third grade classrooms. Its House counterpart, HB 2003, is sponsored by House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay.

This bill is one of the main education initiatives lawmakers are pushing this session. Republican leadership said prior to the session that they would focus on improving the state’s struggling public schools after years of focusing on bills to allow and fund private schools and other forms of alternative education.

Specifically, lawmakers are considering bills to raise salaries for teachers and support staff and a bill to gather information about student hunger.

Sen. Amy Grady, a public school teacher and chair of the Senate Education Committee, said she plans to introduce a proposal for a four-day school week pilot program. Grady said she’s been in contact with the state superintendent and a number of county boards of education about the pilot program. It’s based on successful programs in other states that have found a four day week improved student engagement and teacher morale.

The catch, Grady said, is that she wouldn’t want to pass the bill without the full buy-in of five or six counties that would want to try the pilot. – Ian Karbal

Read more: West Virginia lawmakers want to improve public schools. Here’s what you need to know

Allen Siegler is the public health reporter for Mountain State Spotlight. He can be reached at (681) 317-7571.

Ian Karbal is a Report for America corps member, and the state government watchdog reporter for Mountain State Spotlight.