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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Sworn in to his first full four-year term Monday afternoon, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin reiterated his pledge to "put West Virginia first" during a 17-minute inaugural address that emphasized public education reform.
"If our children are to succeed, they must have a world-class education, and must grow up in a community free from the temptations and problems associated with substance abuse," he told a crowd at the south steps of the Capitol.
"Per capita, our education funding ranks among the best in the nation. But on our most important metric -- student achievement -- we're falling behind," Tomblin said. "It doesn't need to be this way -- and it must stop."
Outlining what is expected to be the cornerstone of his 2013 legislative agenda, Tomblin said reforms must include ensuring that by the third grade, children have mastered the key building blocks for learning; to provide vocational training to meet the needs of today's workplace, to ensure that teachers have the classroom resources they need, and to guarantee that students receive the instructional time they need to excel.
"That means making sure our school systems have the ability to be innovative, and that means making sure parents become more responsible for their children and their learning," Tomblin said. "It won't happen overnight -- but we must give our students a better chance."
Tomblin devoted nearly one-fourth of his address to education reform. By contrast, the only other initiative addressed in the speech -- continuing to improve the state's job climate -- was covered in a single paragraph.
However, that issue drew the loudest applause of the speech, when Tomblin stated, "Unfortunately for me, that means in many instances fighting the federal government to get off our backs and leave us alone."
During his tenure as governor, Tomblin has frequently been critical of federal regulations that he believes are overly burdensome for the coal industry.
Afterward, West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said he is awaiting to hear specifics of the governor's education reforms, which likely will be in the State of the State address in about a month.
Lee said it is not clear whether Tomblin will propose real reform of the educational system or will "dance around the edges."