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Senate Education Committee to continue work on reform bill

Mar. 08, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

CHARLESTON -- The Senate Education Committee adjourned shortly after starting its late-afternoon session Thursday without voting on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill.

The massive bill, which touches on everything from literacy and school calendars to hiring and certification, will have a committee substitute, said chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne. But even the substitute is complicated, and he said he wants to be sure all the language is worked out before the committee as a whole votes.

"We've been working with the governor's office and all the interested parties to draft a strong bill," Plymale said. "I do not feel comfortable bringing the language out to the committee without some serious proofing."

He said the bill concerns many major issues that are better not to be rushed. And, he said, the intent remains to put forth a bill that does what Tomblin intends -- to provide a system that will increase student achievement.

"This is a very complicated bill with many components," Plymale said. "We are trying to work with some parameters to keep (the bill) strong, but to address the issues that, I think, are legitimate concerns."

The bill has been on the committee's agenda for the past week, with the heads of the West Virginia Education Association, American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia and the state superintendent of schools all addressing committee members and answering their questions.

For the teachers' organizations, along with the service personnel representative, the top issue has been the language on hiring, which seems to diminish the role that seniority plays. Other factors that Plymale said have been up for debate are the Teach for America program, which provides alternative certification; issues with the calendar provision, which would give county boards of education more flexibility on how to meet the 180-day mandate; and teacher planning time.

"We are working together," Plymale said. "We may not agree, but we all have the best interests of schoolchildren in mind."

Dale Lee, the president of the WVEA, said the delay in voting and work on committee substitutes tells him that teachers and service personnel across the state are sending emails to their representatives and making themselves part of the process.

He also said there has been good dialogue from the very beginning, and he is optimistic that will continue.

"We will continue to work with the governor's office and legislators to try and iron out some very difficult issues," Lee said.

But don't expect Tomblin to compromise the intent of the bill, said Rob Alsop, the governor's chief of staff.

"We won't compromise on a bill that improves student achievement," Alsop said, noting that the third-grade reading requirement and efforts to expand vocational education to the middle-school level are among the things the governor sees as the bill's foundation.

The committee will meet on Tuesday, March 12, and Plymale said the intent is to be ready to vote on the bill, which must be passed by Senate Finance before it could be up for a first reading on the Senate floor.

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