CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Tomblin signed into law Wednesday his education reform bill, a key initiative for this legislative session that he called for in his State of the State address.
“I’m extremely proud of the bill I’m signing today,” Tomblin said during the afternoon ceremony at the Capitol. “I believe it truly reforms our education system.”
The law makes significant changes in the operation of the state’s public schools, including the way teachers are hired. It requires students have 180 days of instruction and aims to improve elementary student reading skills.
The legislation survived intense opposition from the state’s two teachers unions, who argued the law contains too many “give-backs” they had earned over the years. However, leaders of both organizations stood with the governor during the bill signing and praised the bill.
West Virginia Education President Dale Lee used the opportunity to remind the Tomblin and lawmakers that teachers need a raise.
“We want to ensure that we have the top-quality teacher in every classroom and we have to address salaries to be able to ensure that our greatest teachers state in the state of West Virginia,” said Lee.
A critical element of the new law changes how teaching positions are filled. Currently, hires are based largely on seniority. The new law judges applicants on their qualifications and empowers the school principal, faculty representatives and the county superintendent to collaborate on the hiring decision.
The law also requires county school systems revise their calendars to ensure that they reached 180 days of instruction. Now, counties often fall short of that goal, especially during bad winters, even though snow cancellations are counted as instructional days.
The legislation aims to improve the skills of elementary schools students by requiring that all children can read on grade level by the end of the third grade.
These and other changes were pushed by the state Board of Education in response to an independent audit that pointed to failings in the school system, including a top-heavy bureaucracy. Critics of the new law said there’s nothing in the bill dealing with that issue.
West Virginia public school student achievement consistently ranks near the bottom in the country. The state also has a serious dropout problem, with one in four high school students failing to graduate on time.
There are other changes coming to education beyond the law. Tomblin has already charged the state board with bringing more technology and digital learning to the classroom.