State Senate passes revised education bill

CHARLESTON – The governor’s education bill was passed in the Senate Monday and has been taken up in the House of Delegates.

The Senate voted 34-0 to pass the bill, which has been worked on for more than a week.

“I commend the members of the West Virginia Senate for supporting Senate Bill 359,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said. ”I believe our children deserve the best education possible and I am confident this landmark legislation will truly make a difference in classrooms across the state.”

The bill was scheduled to be taken up last Friday, but the governor asked lawmakers to do additional work on it over the weekend to address the concerns of teachers unions and others. Tomblin worked with the Senate, the House and groups to reach an agreement on the bill.

Additions to the bill included a minimum of 40 minutes will be provided for elementary school planning periods; the state Board of Education will conduct an examination of current and potential forms of alternative certification, with a focus on placing effective teachers in areas of highest need; and a new 48-week limit on the school calendar, leaving a four consecutive week period in local school calendars to provide time for school maintenance without students and teachers in the building, the governor’s office reported.

There will be six days outside the school environment days, which will be required as part of the 20 non-instructional calendar days, with those days available to be converted to instructional days to make up for school cancellations.

Focus will be given to getting the most qualified teacher in the classroom, officials said.

Sen. David Nohe, R-Wood, was initially against the bill when it was first presented, citing the number of educators who had voiced opposition to it.

Through the negotiations and other work, amendments made the bill more acceptable to educators, Nohe said.

”Once those amendments were made, they made it a good bill,” Nohe said.

Also, on Monday morning Nohe started to receive messages from educators supporting the amended bill.

Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, said the bill allows more local control in hirings and other concerns.

”I think it is a good bill,” she said. ”There was a lot of give and take between the governor, the unions and the Senate to get this bill together.”

Although the Senate had the votes to pass the bill last Friday, Boley commended all the parties for working throughout the weekend on a bill everyone could live with.

The new hiring criteria will be weighted, with provisions that allow for the double weighting of recommendations from the faculty senate and the principal. New provisions will require that a county board hire a teacher if the faculty senate, the principal and the superintendent agree as to the highest qualified candidate.

”Teachers will have a say in the approval on hirings,” Nohe said.

Nohe was glad to see the parts about allowing teachers their planning periods were left in.

”There were hundreds of teachers who were concerned about that,” he said. ”Their planning periods were very important to them.”

Boley was glad the bill included encouragement for 4-year-olds around the state to take advantage of pre-kindergarten programs. She was glad to see local principals will have more control over local schools.

The revised bill ended up being endorsed by the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, Boley said.

The bill was taken up Monday in the House of Delegates and sent to the education committee to be worked on.