Education bill days from becoming law
March 22, 2013 by Dave Boucher
Before the legislative session, a betting man might have said any education reform measure wouldn’t pass until the final day of the Legislature.
When Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin
signs Senate Bill 359 in the coming days, he and other stakeholders this the measure proves the state can come together to produce a measure that positively affects student achievement.
The Friday celebration followed the overwhelming passage of the bill in the House of Delegates hours before. Both House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne
, and Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall
, congratulated the governor and the state on the completion of the legislation. ”This piece of legislation is about our kids and making sure we”re actively prepaing them for a successful future,” Tomblin said Friday in a press event.
The majority of the haggling and hurt feelings happened on the Senate side of the Capitol. After hours of closed-door conversations, the education bill emerged with significant changes. Lawmakers, educations and teachers unions alike championed the revised measure as a compromise bill that “puts students first.”
Much of that finagling is credited to Senate Education Chair Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, Kessler said.
“About 11 or so years ago the governor asked me to be education chair,” Plymale said. “I never thought that we would be standing here today talking about a major piece of legislation we just passed. It’s pretty remarkable.”
Plymale also gave credit to vice chair Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, for putting in a great deal of work as well.
All parties who spoke Friday said there was a great deal of communication and working together. Tomblin thanked teachers unions, the business community, educators, parents and citizens for their help. State schools Superintendent Jim Phares was a little more direct in his comments.
“What is remarkable is that traditional groups who come in and talk about adults in the educational world decided to come in and talk about students, and I’m tremendously grateful for everyone who did that,” Phares said, adding that the legislation made history.
Teachers unions have been accused in the past of trying to stand in the way of education reform. Tomblin specifically mentioned by the West Virginia Education Association and the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, thanking them for putting in long hours with the bill.
WVEA President Dale Lee thanked everyone for their help, but said there are still steps to be taken for education. Christine Campbell, president-elect for WV-AFT, agreed.
It’s the same argument made this week by Republican members of the House. While GOP delegates proposed five changes to the bill–including allowing charter schools into the state–all five were rejected. At no point did a GOP senator of delegate say he or she was involved in any of the closed-door sessions that went in to crafting the bill.
However, Tomblin said after the event the vote on the measure speaks to the bi-partisan nature of the bill. It passed with unanimous consent in the Senate, with only two delegates–Marty Gearheart of Mercer County and Larry Kump of Berkeley County–voting against the bill in the House.
“I think the one thing that’s important to see here is this is the way this process is supposed to work,” said House Education Committee Vice Chair Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln.
Parts of the bill that were tweaked the most includes areas that provide flexibility to the school calendar; de-emphasize seniority in the hiring process while adding input from teachers and administrators; and increase time for planning periods. As introduced, the bill also increasing the responsibilities of the Department of Education in assessing all schools, as well as moving forward with new standard assessments of students. The bill also removes the salary cap and degree requirements from the superintendents positions.
Echoing other people Friday, Tomblin ended his speech by saying “this is only the beginning. ” The governor has already said he wants to take a three-pronged approach to education reform: legislation, three executive orders and calling on the Department of Education. He’s already issued his list to the department, and announced the creation of a group to examine middle school education via executive order.
The department is advancing well with it’s directives, Phares recently said. Tomblin said the other two executive orders could come as soon as next week.
The education bill is still getting the finishing touches needed before it can be signed. It’s expected to be signed within the next five to 10 days.