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Senate delays vote on Tomblin education bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va.-- The West Virginia Senate postponed a vote on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill until Monday.

"I think we're close, but not completely there," Senate President Jeff Kessler said Friday afternoon after the Senate adjourned.

Senators are making revisions and considering an amendment to Tomblin's bill (SB359) in hopes it will pass swiftly without changes through the House of Delegates. Kessler said "three or four" contentious issues remain under discussion.

"We can fly something out of here, but if it doesn't pass the House, it's not law," Kessler said. "If the governor does not sign it, it's not law."

House leaders, the governor's aides and state teachers union leaders are taking part in negotiations over the substitute bill. The current version of the school reform legislation is expected to receive a cool reception in the House.

"At the end of the day, it's going to be a cooperative effort with all of the stakeholders and the executive," Kessler said. "We all want a bill that improves the quality of education in the state."

Earlier this week, the Senate education and finance committees advanced a revised version of Tomblin's bill over strong objections from the teachers unions.

The current bill de-emphasizes the role seniority plays in teacher hiring. Principals would have more authority to hire teachers.

Tomblin's bill also allows a "national teacher corps" to operate in West Virginia. The unions say that would open the door for the nonprofit Teach for America program to send recent college graduates -- without teaching degrees -- to West Virginia. State Board of Education members strongly support Teach for America, which places newly minted teachers in struggling schools.

The governor's legislation also gives county school boards more flexibility to set their school-year calendars. Teachers want a calendar that restricts the school year to a specific number of weeks.

Kessler said House and Senate leaders, the governor's staff and the teachers unions will continue to talk about the education reform bill over the weekend. He said he's "comfortable" the full Senate will pass the legislation at Monday's 11 a.m. floor session.

"It is the governor's initiative, and he's very highly involved," Kessler said. "We figured we'd take another day or two and see if we can get a final version that maybe is more acceptable to both sides."

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


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