CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State senators passed Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill Monday, after making a flurry of last-minute changes to win support from West Virginia's teachers unions.
"There were some very difficult negotiations, but I believe this addresses the most important issue that our kids are getting a quality education," said Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall. "Overall it's a good, strong bill."
The compromise bill overhauls teacher-hiring practices, but doesn't gut the role seniority plays in teacher selection.
The legislation also won't allow the nonprofit Teach for America program to operate in West Virginia. Instead, lawmakers plan to study such alternative programs. The teachers unions opposed Teach for America, which places recent college graduates in struggling schools.
Tomblin's revised bill also expands the length of the yearly school calendar -- as requested by county school boards -- but requires schools to shut down at least four weeks each year.
"This is a bill that's good for children and good for school employees," said Judy Hale, president of the West Virginia Federation of Teachers. "It's a much better bill than it was initially."
Senate members voted 34-0 to pass Tomblin's revised school reform measures.
The House of Delegates accepted the bill Monday and referred it to the House Education Committee. A vote in the full House is expected by the end of the week.
The revised version of Tomblin's bill followed a series of meetings with state lawmakers, the governor's top aides and union leaders last weekend.
"We've still got work to do [in the House], but we think we've got a good bill that's going to be meaningful for raising student achievement in West Virginia," said Rob Alsop, Tomblin's chief of staff.
Tomblin's initial proposals to revamp teacher-hiring practices sparked widespread outrage among teachers, but the revised bill scales back most of the controversial changes.
Under the legislation, school principals and faculty senates will have a say over teacher hires -- and their recommendations will receive double weight among 11 factors used to fill teaching jobs.
Additional factors include seniority and whether teachers have a certificate from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.
The bill also authorizes school boards to pay teachers who serve on panels that recommend teachers for jobs.
"It's going to give more flexibility to the local school board, and teachers also will have input," Hale said.