CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill cleared its first hurdle Tuesday over strong objections from teachers.
The Senate Education Committee passed the governor's legislation on a non-unanimous voice vote.
"This is not an education reform bill. This is a teacher-bashing bill," said Judy Hale, president of the West Virginia Federation of Teachers.
The bill overhauls teacher hiring practices, de-emphasizing seniority. The legislation also allows the Teach for America program to operate in West Virginia, but under a different name.
Teachers union leaders said they had won several concessions under Tomblin's bill last week. Those changes were scrapped Monday, they said.
"I'm discouraged we were making progress only to see that progress take several steps back," said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association.
Lee predicted the hiring proposals in Tomblin's bill would lead to a significant spike in grievances, or formal complaints, filed by teachers.
"There's no way you can show me these [proposed] hiring practices will do anything but create havoc," he said. "This absolutely will not lead to the most qualified people getting the job."
The revised version of Tomblin's bill that passed Tuesday includes some concessions to teachers.
The committee's substitute bill, for instance, increases the number of faculty senate days from one to four. The updated version also doesn't restrict teacher-planning periods to 30 minutes a day. Instead, the bill directs the state school board to study planning periods and report back to the Legislature.
"I think it's a good bill," said Senate Education Committee Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne. "We addressed a lot of their concerns."
But it did not address the major sticking points, teachers union leaders said after the vote.
Teachers wanted county school boards to give seniority equal weight among eight criteria used to fill teaching jobs. Instead, Tomblin's bill allows local school boards to set the weight of each factor. So school officials could deem seniority, or experience, the least important factor.
Hale said the change would lead principals and county superintendents to hire their friends and family members, not the most qualified teacher.
"There is no objectivity to the hiring practices," Hale said. "It truly is the 'friends and family plan.' The criteria, as the bill reads, is worthless."
The governor's office, however, added language to the bill that stipulates that principals can't recommend relatives for teacher jobs.
Hale said teachers never asked for that revision.