Education bill may be on fast track in Senate
CHARLESTON -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's public education reform bill -- introduced only three days ago -- is considered to be on the fast track in the West Virginia Senate. But Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha, predicted Wednesday that the Senate Education Committee will be preparing a committee substitute before sending it to the Senate Finance Committee.
"This legislation is not on the fast track," Wells said. "We'll be doing a committee substitute bill but overall the governor's bill is to be left intact."
He also predicted the legislation will end up in a House-Senate conference committee before the end of the regular 60-day legislative session on Saturday, April 13, so a compromise bill can be worked out between the two chambers.
Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, has said committee members plan to vote on the governor's bill on Thursday, March 7, at the latest -- the second of two additional committee meetings planned on the bill.
"All in all, I think this bill moves us forward and puts student achievement on the top rung," Plymale said after the committee's first consideration of the bill at its meeting two days ago.
Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, has 40 years in this state as a teacher, principal and county administrator. He said Wednesday morning that he doesn't want to hold up the process when the 179-page bill comes to his committee.
"When I began teaching, the public school teacher was very well respected in the community," Prezioso said. "But now society has changed and that respect has eroded over the years."
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, is not a member of the Senate Education Committee but suggested Wednesday that he doesn't want to see the Senate "throw out a work product in a hurry just to get it moving."
Most senators have indicated they want to move the bill quickly enough to give the House of Delegates to have ample time to debate the legislation as well and apparently the goal is to have the bill clear the Senate by the mid-way point of the 60-day session.
The Senate Education Committee will have one more meeting before the March 7 session where a final vote on the legislation is planned. This will allow Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, and West Virginia Federation of Teachers President Judy Hale to have an opportunity to present their concerns about the current legislation.
Lee and Hale concede there are "some bright spots" in the legislation but the overall assessment by both of them is that the bill is "a travesty" and they want to make that clear to anyone who will listen.
"The governor missed a real opportunity to do real education reform and has instead used this to bash teachers," Lee said.