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WV Senate passes amended ed bill

Education bill
Mar. 18, 2013 @ 11:09 PM

CHARLESTON -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education proposal arrived at the House of Delegates on Monday after the Senate agreed to last-minute changes pushed by groups representing teachers and school workers.

As amended, the measure passed unanimously by the Senate scraps the governor's invitation of the nonprofit Teach for America program into state classrooms. Lawmakers would instead study ways to offer alternative paths for certifying teachers.

To ensure 180 days of student instruction, Tomblin had proposed freeing up 12 days in the school calendar now assigned for other uses. Mondays changes would set aside six of those days for outside-of-school activities, but would also permit the use of those days to make up for snow days. Weather routinely leaves county schools short of state law's 180-day mandate.

The Senate kept the governor's language ending teacher pay for snow days, and allows counties to add days from outside of the calendar to reach 180 days. For that goal, and to permit "balanced" or year-round school calendars, Monday's bill also expands the annual employment period to 48 weeks from 43 weeks.

The Senate also expanded the factors to be considered when teachers and administrators are hired, from Tomblin's proposed eight to 11. Seniority remains on the list, joined by national certification. The Senate tweaked other proposed factors that include specialized training relevant to the job sought, past evaluations and "other measures or indicators."

Recommendations from principals and faculty senates would be separate criteria among those factors. County school boards could weigh the 11 factors as they choose -- unless applicants for a classroom teaching post include already-employed educators. In such cases, the factors must be given equal weight except for the principal and faculty senate recommendations, which would receive double weight.

Monday's amendment further guarantees a classroom teaching job to the applicant who wins both those recommendations as well as the county superintendent's.

"We've made a lot of progress, and we do have a bill that I feel very strongly ... does what we needed to do to move this state forward," Senate Education Chair Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, told colleagues before Monday's vote.

The bill also reflects Tomblin's goals of ensuring that every 3rd-grader ends that year reading at grade level, and that high school students enter their senior year ready for college or career training. It offers loan forgiveness to teachers assigned to subjects or parts of the state with critical shortages. It would pay the $1,150 renewal fee for teachers with vaunted national certification.

The Senate also kept Tomblin's proposed rewrite of the school accreditation process, and his call for public meetings before county boards draw up a new school calendar. Its passage of the bill followed talks with House lawmakers and groups representing teachers. Those organizations applauded Monday's changes, as did Tomblin.

"I'm pleased all of my goals remain intact and I look forward to working with members of the House and stakeholders in the coming days," the governor said in a statement.

House Speaker Rick Thompson assigned the bill to a single committee, House Education, for review. With the session ending April 13, Thompson pledged quick House action. The Wayne County Democrat praised Plymale, House Education Chair Mary Polling and others for Monday's changes.

"My understanding is, this is a consensus bill," Thompson said. "There are a lot of good things for education."

House Democrats and Republicans expect to discuss the bill Tuesday when they hold separate closed-door caucus meetings. The November election gave the GOP 46 of 100 seats in the House, and Minority Leader Tim Armstead said delegates should be given time to touch base with constituents about the amended bill.

"We want to make sure there's still autonomy within the school systems to make hiring and firing decisions, and to make sure (the bill) does give back more local control," said Armstead, R-Kanawha. "That's very important to our caucus and I think very important to the state of West Virginia."

Tomblin drafted the bill following a wide-ranging audit that described a public schools system rigid with bureaucracy and laws, but with poor results for students. The governor also plans to issue executive orders and has enlisted the state Board of Education to pursue other measures as part of his quest to overhaul the system.

The Senate also kept language sought by the state board for its quest to conduct a national search for a state schools superintendent. That part of the bill would continue to require a master's degree for that post, but it would no longer have to be in education administration.

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