Legislation that makes the most dramatic changes in public education in West Virginia in recent memory is expected to receive final approval in the House of Delegates Friday. The bill cleared second reading Thursday as the House rejected five different Republican amendments.
The sweeping legislation is designed to shift more responsibility away from Charleston and to local school boards, including the ability to hire teachers based on qualifications instead of just seniority. The bill also requires 180 days of instruction, a goal school systems frequently fail to meet.
Additionally, the bill toughens up accreditation, requiring the state Board of Education to hold public schools more accountable for results.
“No piece of legislation is ever perfect,” said House Speaker Rick Thompson. “But I think it’s an enormous step. It’s more than we’ve ever done before.”
The House rejected five different Republican amendments, including proposals to establish charter schools and provide merit pay for teachers. House Minority Leader Tim Armstead was disappointed the House did not give serious consideration to the amendments.
“I think that is an effort to limit any additional reforms this year,” Armstead said. “We certainly need to fight for reforms and bold changes. We’re 49th in the country.”
Still, the bill represents a significant victory for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who called for education reform in his State of the State Address. Tomblin, reformed-minded members of the state Board of Education, and key lawmakers formed a powerful alliance that pushed back against the state’s two teacher unions, which opposed many of the changes.
Ultimately, the bill was a compromise agreed to with the unions, but it includes most of the changes the governor and the state BOE wanted to make.