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State of the State expected to focus on education, prisons

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will give his third State of the State address to a joint session of the Legislature Wednesday evening, his first since being elected to a full four-year term as governor in November.

As he has done in the past two regular sessions, Tomblin has kept particulars of his legislative agenda close to the vest, but the approximately 50-minute speech is expected to focus on two key issues: public education reform, and reducing prison overcrowding by expanding community corrections and substance abuse treatment programs statewide.

"The meat and potatoes of this speech is going to be about education and education reform," Tomblin spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said Tuesday, after working with the governor on a practice run-though of the speech.

She said Tomblin will also address "dollar and cents" issues regarding state finances, as well as proposals to address prison overcrowding and substance abuse problems.

On Tuesday, state Superintendent of Schools Jim Phares provided a hint of the administration's education reform proposals during a presentation to the legislative Joint Standing Committee on Education.

He talked about moving certain administrative functions, including costly professional development programs for teachers and principals from the central office to eight Regional Education Service Agencies.

Phares said the public education system must also address issues with underachieving students, high dropout and truancy rates, substance abuse and teen pregnancy. Public schools also need to expand nutrition and wellness programs to combat the "devastating impact of poverty," he said.

Phares said the process of improving public schools should not be adversarial, and said teachers and principals should be built up and not blamed.

Likewise, he told legislators, "I do not want to be your adversary. I will support whatever you decide in the course of the legislative session."

Just as Tomblin is expected to incorporate recommendations of an education efficiency audit by Public Works LLC, recommendations by the nonpartisan Justice Center of the Council of State Governments are expected to provide the basis for proposals to relieve critical overcrowding of the state's prisons and Regional Jail system.

That report called for expanding probation, parole and community sentencing, but requiring post-release supervision for all former inmates. Also, noting that substance and/or alcohol abuse is a primary or contributing factor in about 80 percent of incarcerations, the report calls for expanded community based substance abuse treatment programs for released inmates.

Tonight's address will be Tomblin's first without having an acting or interim title as governor.

In 2011, Tomblin technically was still Senate president and was acting as governor after Gov. Joe Manchin vacated the office to become a U.S. senator. In 2012, Tomblin had won special election to serve the year remaining on Manchin's unexpired term.

Last November, Tomblin won election to a full four-year term, defeating Republican challenger Bill Maloney for the second time in 13 months.

The speech from House chambers will begin at 7 p.m. and will be broadcast statewide, and also will be streamed live at the governor's website at www.governor.wv.gov.

At noon today, the Legislature will reconvene to start its 60-day regular session. The House and Senate convened briefly on Jan. 9 to elect officers.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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