Since the last debate of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin‘s education bill it appears little has changed. That could mean a few lively sessions with the Senate Education Committee Tuesday afternoon.
Last week Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, delayed two meetings of his committee in order to give lawmakers, unions and Tomblin’s staff more time to work on a bill.
“We are working on language. I do not feel comfortable bringing the language out to the committee without significant proofing,” Plymale said before cancelling the last meeting Thursday afternoon.
Plymale said there was a plan to work on the bill (Senate Bill 359) some over the weekend and Monday. However, it doesn’t appear too much has changed.
“There are still disagreements between the Senate position and the position of the AFT and WVEA concerning the hiring criteria and the calendar, in terms of taking out the 43 weeks,” said Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, late Monday night.
“But at this point, the chairman believes we need to put the bill up for the vote,” he continued.
A portion of the bill pertaining to Teach For America is also still unsettled, said Wells, education committee vice chair. The name has been removed from the bill, but the idea of allowing the program or other alternative paths to the classroom remains.
Wells said there were some talks during the day Monday and a little over the weekend, but there was no progress made on the biggest sticking points.
Dale Lee, head of the West Virginia Education Association, said he wasn’t a part of those talks.
“I’ve been waiting all day to continue discussions. As of 4:02 we still haven’t had the discussions,” Lee said Monday.
He said it was a “tremendous surprise” that no lawmakers or members of Tomblin’s staff had spoken with him to that point. Clearly frustrated, he said he hoped to continue discussions “in good faith.”
The state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers was notably quiet Monday. Its president, Judy Hale, has been perhaps the most outspoken critic of the bill.
Unions don’t want hiring practices to change, while the governor and his supporters want a law that limits the emphasis of seniority in hiring. School service personnel in particular despise taking away the 43-week school period mandated in code now; bill supporters say state law limits a county’s ability to adequately meet its needs. That includes moving to a year-round (or balanced) school calendar.
Teach For America is a national non-profit organization that takes high achieving college graduates and professionals and places them in schools traditionally located in under-served areas. Unions say the program’s training isn’t nearly enough to prepare someone for the classroom. Supporters say the program is just one tool in the toolbox the state could use to help student achievement.
The one thing people seem to agree upon is that the bill introduced by the governor won’t be the one senators see Tuesday afternoon.
Apart from Wells and Plymale, few other senators have been privy to closed door negotiations, according to Senate Education Committee member Truman Chafin, D-Mingo. Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, said late Monday he hasn’t seen the committee substitute, Capitol-speak for the bill that will incorporate any changes to the governor’s measure.
Plymale said Monday during the full Senate session there are two meetings scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. Both are devoted to the governor’s bill, Beach said. During the first he thought the committee substitute would be presented and explained. The committee would discuss and eventually vote on the bill during the second meeting, he guessed.
There have been a few senators going around trying to gauge the feel of the committee, Beach said. Right now he said he’s a “no comment” because he hasn’t seen the changes in the new bill. He’s “a little uncomfortable” with some aspects of the bill as it was introduced, though.
“The bill is giving some members some heartburn. I think it still is,” Beach said.
The first Senate Education Committee meeting is planned for 2 p.m. Tuesday. The second, assuming no vote on the bill is taken during the first, will be at 5 p.m.