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Education tops Tomblin's legislative agenda

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declined to reveal details about his legislative agenda Thursday, but he made clear that education reform would be at the top of his list of proposals.

Tomblin hinted that he would likely propose legislation to expand the school calendar, give county school boards more autonomy and bolster reading instruction in elementary schools.

"As we go into this coming session, I think probably most of our time, a great deal of our time, will be spent on education," Tomblin said during Thursday's Associated Press annual "Legislative Lookahead" event in South Charleston.

The state school board already has endorsed a host of education reforms - initially outlined in a comprehensive education efficiency audit released last year. The audit suggested that school systems offer a year-round or "balanced" school calendar, as an alternative to the traditional August to June school year.

Tomblin said his bills would address "flexibility in calendars and flexibility at the local level.

"If you're not able to read by the third grade you really start getting behind," Tomblin said. "Our focus will be, as students graduate from high school, they either have skills ready for the work force or skills to go into higher education. We realize everyone is not cut out to go into higher education."

Tomblin said he was putting the "final touches" on a number of bills he plans to introduce. The 60-day legislative session starts Wednesday.

"It may take a few extra days to finalize an education bill, but I'm confident we will have all our bills ready to go within the first 10 days of the session."

Tomblin said he also plans to introduce legislation that addresses prison overcrowding. The bill is expected to include recommendations recently outlined in a comprehensive report about West Virginia's prison system.

Tomblin told reporters that West Virginia must find more ways to lower the rate of inmates who get released, but later commit crimes and wind up back in jail.

"We need to talk about how we stop recidivism to make sure that when people are released from the prison system that they have the skills, the ability and the training to go back into society and become productive citizens," Tomblin said.

Tomblin said such measures are more effective in curbing crime than building more prisons.

"Going that route is much better than spending $200 million on a new prison," he said.

Tomblin also said he and the state Commerce Department officials are still trying to persuade companies to build an ethane cracker plant in West Virginia. Such a facility, which would process ethane from the Marcellus Shale, could create hundreds of jobs. State and Kanawha County leaders have pitched a site at Institute for the cracker plant.

"I still have a great deal of confidence we will have something here in the near future," Tomblin said. "I know the talks are ongoing."

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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