Major changes are being proposed for West Virginia's school funding formula.

The state could spend nearly $37 million more on its public schools over the next three years, by giving greater weight to how closely a county's students live together.

The proposal to change the long-held school funding formula was discussed by a House-Senate interim subcommittee.

Challenge WV fellow Thomas Ramey said "Not unlike the current funding formula, it seems complicated, and there are few details."

"The impact of the proposal on poor, rural WV counties remains to be seen," Ramey said.

One proposal would divide the 55 counties into four groups depending on the number of students per square mile.

That provision would change the state school aid formula, which now parcels out funding based on whether a county is more or less densely populated than the state average.

Finance Director Joe Panetta says "The Department of Education supports these proposed revisions."

The draft's other major change is to eliminate the adjusted enrollment figure used to determine special education funding.

Such funding instead will depend on a county's net enrollment, with extra funds available to systems that can demonstrate need.

Sparsely populated counties with fewer than 1,400 students would also see changes meant to recognize their greater transportation costs.

Funding for operating and maintaining buildings, meanwhile, would be determined by net enrollment and average statewide costs.

The formula now bases that funding the same way it allots money for educators and service personnel.

Panetta says thirteen counties would see gains of $1 million or greater during that time, led by Berkeley County at $2.6 million.

Three counties would see a net decrease: Pleasants, at $85,000; Wetzel, at $118,000; and Tyler, at $183,000.

The density categories range from sparse, with less than five students per square mile, to high if there are more than 20, says the state department.

Fifteen counties would fall into the former group under current head counts, including such large rural areas as Pocahontas and Pendleton counties.

The high category would cover 13 counties and include the population centers of Kanawha, Berkeley, Wood and Cabell. Another 15 counties would be deemed low density, and the remaining 12 medium.

Delegate David Perry, D-Fayette and co-chairman of the subcommittee said "I think this is a major piece of reform legislation," Perry said. "I think it is a significant attempt to create parity and equity among the counties."

Gov. Joe Manchin said he applauds lawmakers for taking on changes to the way state schools are funded, but did not endorse a proposal recommended by a legislative interim committee.

Manchin said he wants to be assured the money will be "getting into the classroom" and not dumped into administration.

The governor did acknowledge some changes need to be made to the school aid formula, used to fund the 55 county school boards.