Lee said that kids who participate in arts, music and band score higher in math and science.
Piggybacking on the garden theme, Lee said, "If you can provide the STEAM to get the moisture that those plants need, you can ensure that the plants and students will grow and thrive."
Tomblin said that STEM workers could be educated in career and technical schools and that he intends to make it easier by putting more math and English teachers in those schools, meaning students wouldn't have to shuttle back and forth for those classes.
Phares called that a "major commitment" and something that would go a long way to helping educate more STEM students.
Tomblin also proposed grading schools, not just students, on an A through F grading system, with one letter grade for each school, a system that is used in 16 other states. School officials from Florida told Tomblin and the state Board of Education about their move to an A through F model at a conference last fall.
Tomblin said the system would be a better indicator of school achievement and "a rating system we all understand."
In Florida, standardized test scores have remained steady, and in some cases improved, but schools with F grades are currently at a record high, according to the Florida Department of Education.
Both union officials said that the system of school evaluation was less important than what is done with those evaluations.
"It doesn't really matter what you call it, it matters what you do with it," Campbell said. She emphasize that evaluations need to be used to encourage successful schools and provide aid to struggling ones.
Lee said that the A-through-F model concerned him.
"We already rate our schools in West Virginia," he said. "Part of that has to include funding for struggling schools and student and parent accountability too."
While primary education is exempt from budget cuts, public colleges and universities in West Virginia would see cuts for the third straight year under Tomblin's proposed budget, although Promise scholarships and other grant programs would be excluded from cuts.
Higher education would be cut by 3.75 percent, as opposed to the 7.5 percent cuts that many other state agencies would see.
Kiss said state officials hope that the smaller cut will help colleges forestall tuition increases.
"Saying they don't have any place to go, they need additional dollars, they have the ability to raise their tuition," Kiss said. "By doing less of a cut, the pressure on them to do additional increases should be abated and that's something that also will have to be funded and monitored over the coming year."
Reach David Gutman at david.gut...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.