Lawmakers applaud Tomblin's focus on education
CHARLESTON -- Lawmakers from Cabell and Wayne counties applauded Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's focus on education reform, which he outlined Wednesday night in his State of the State address.
Speaking from the House chambers at the State Capitol Complex, Tomblin first touted that state aid for public schools and scholarship programs were not part of the $75 million in cuts made several state departments for the 2013-2014 budget year.
But it's not money that will help the state's education system, as the major reforms Tomblin will introduce through an executive bill are relatively cost-free. The only cost, he said, is continuing to do nothing to address the state's academic shortcomings.
"As important as the energy industry is to our economy in West Virginia, there is something ... more important for our future, more important for our economy and more important for creating good-paying jobs," Tomblin said. "And that is education."
He cited the Education Efficiency Audit as stirring up discussion about the best ways to reform one of the most regulated state education systems in the country. He also noted that Education Week's Quality Counts gave the state an "F" for student achievement, which was 49th in the nation. And, on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which ranks states on 24 categories, West Virginia is ranked below the national average in 21 of those, he said.
"I've been to many States of the State, and this focused on education more than any in the past," said Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell. "Clearly he feels the weight of the education audit."
Other members of the Cabell and Wayne county delegations also were encouraged by Tomblin's insistence on real education reform, including those on the other side of the aisle. Del. Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, said she is looking forward to seeing the specifics of the governor's bill and added that the addition of Republicans in the House could give it more traction toward passage.
Del. Carol Miller, another Republican from Cabell County, joined Jenkins in thanking the governor for what they called a critical message for parents, that parents are the greatest cheerleaders children have. "Please take their education seriously and help them realize their potential."
"There is no greater force for educational achievement than a dedicated parent," Tomblin said.
Del. Kevin Craig, D-Cabell, and Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, also chimed in on the education reform proposals. Craig said he is encouraged because the reforms can improve education and save the state money in the long run.
And Plymale said it was important that the governor made education the highlight of his speech because the education audit has been out for public consumption and criticism for more than a year.
"We can no longer accept student achievement where it is," Plymale said. "There's no better starting point for the younger generation to make sure they can work in the 21st century."
Tomblin also wants to see career and technical education expanded back into the middle school curriculum, saying that West Virginia has an expanding need for a workforce skilled in the trades.
Craig said he supports that effort because he said he thinks it can lead to fewer dropouts, thus helping to reduce drug use and incarceration.
To further ensure that children can grow up and be successful, Tomblin also said the fight must continue against drug abuse.
That is leading to his new campaign, "Get High, Don't Get Hired."
Along with that effort, Tomblin said he will propose legislation to "make it clear that officers have implied consent upon reasonable cause," which allows law enforcement to properly identify, test and remove those under the influence of drugs from the roadways.
However, he identified no new spending for programs or treatment facilities.
Tomblin also spoke about the state's overcrowded prison system and how the Justice Reinvestment program could help to resolve some issues. He didn't talk on specifics, only saying that substance abuse is "a huge part of prison overcrowding, and the high re-offending rate intensifies the problem."
"We must work to increase public safety and reduce habitual offenders," Tomblin said, citing the opportunity to save $116 million over the next six years by employing some of those recommendations.
Local lawmakers said they were pleased to hear the governor set some priorities with the Justice Reinvestment recommendations. But Sobonya said she wanted to hear more details to ensure that substance abuse treatment for those who need it is funded with the savings.
And Miller agreed, saying that the bad guys need locked up, but those dealing with addiction must receive treatment so they can become productive citizens and end up back behind bars.
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