The main piece of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s legislative agenda, the education reform bill, is now on its way to his desk. The House of Delegates passed the comprehensive bill 95-2 Friday.
The House made no changes to the legislation that came over from the state Senate earlier this week. Several delegates made some final comments on the much-talked-about bill before the final vote. Many of them praised the legislation while others said it doesn’t go far enough to reform education in the Mountain State.
“How ’bout we wait and see what the results of this bill are and the efforts of the education system before we start patting ourselves on the back—and in the meantime do more,” House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said.
Del. Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, said she’s confident the bill will improve the state’s ranking in education, which is 49th in student achievement.
“Every single piece of this bill focuses on student achievement because we focus on the teachers, the service personnel, the parents, the faculty senate,” Lawrence said.
Much of the bill is based on the governor’s education audit that was completed and submitted to lawmakers more than a year ago but there are other recommendations in the audit that didn’t make into the legislation.
The bill does deal with professional development for teachers, teacher hiring, the school calendar, reading levels for elementary students and early childhood education.
Marion County Del. Mike Caputo says the process worked like it’s supposed to work with the interested parties doing a lot of work on the bill behind closed doors. Caputo praised Speaker Rick Thompson for holding things together.
“Mr. Speaker, I also know that you were the glue that kept them in that room. When the negotiations were about to break down our speaker kept them together,” Caputo told members of the House.
But the bulk of the work on the bill was done in the state Senate by Senate Education Committee Chair Bob Plymale who held his ground on things like teacher hiring and the school calendar. The unions representing teachers largely lost those battles.
The only two House members and thus the only two state lawmakers to vote against the bill were Del. Marty Gearheart of Mercer County and Del. Larry Kump of Berkeley County, both Republicans. Kump said he had too many questions.
“I’m concerned about our underpaid teachers. I’m concerned about the state Board of Education not being directly accountable to voters. I’m concerned about the state Board of Education still being too top heavy and with too much authority over local schools,” Kump said before the vote.
Gov. Tomblin said during his State of the State Address that that his bill would not alone do what’s needed to improve education. The governor says the state Board of Education and his office must also make moves, independent of the legislature, to create a better education system.
Lincoln County Del. Josh Stowers says he’s looking forward to returning to his job as assistant principal at Horace Mann Middle School in Kanawha County on April 15 after the legislative session.
“When I start high-fiving all of those kids when I go down the hall I’ll have a little more pride—we did something good this year,” Stowers said.
The governor is expected to sign the bill in a few days once it makes it to his desk.