Legislative leaders expect action on education reform
Legislative leaders in the State Senate and House of Delegates made it clear at Thursday's West Virginia Press Association's annual breakfast at the Marriott Hotel that they expect to enact significant reforms in public elementary and secondary education during the regular 60-day legislative session.
"This is the 23rd day, so we're more than one-third of the way through," said Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall. "And the bill on public education (for elementary and secondary schools) is the most important. It will give local school districts more authority."
Kessler also said he wants to make sure lawmakers end up with a requirement for 180 days of instruction in the school year and promised that state residents can expect the final result to be "a comprehensive education bill this year."
"Sixty-five percent of our budget goes to public education," continued Kessler. "And we still rank among the lowest in the nation. We need to create jobs for our young people, too."
Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall, R-Putnam, said his wife is a veteran of 37 years as a public education employee.
"This is about teacher performance vs. student performance," he said. "The current bill gives the principal some control. This bill isn't perfect, but we are moving in the right direction."
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, noted the "number of bureaucrats per student" in the public school system of West Virginia is "10 times the number" in neighboring Virginia.
House Speaker Richard Thompson, D-Wayne, said the House of Delegates will be responsible for preparing the budget bill this year under the alternating arrangement with the State Senate.
"About 300 of the 850 bills already introduced in the House have a fiscal note," he said. "Every member wants to make sure we don't cut the specific appropriations for the programs they support. But, overall, the budget is going to be a little tighter this year."
Armstead said the 46 Republicans in the 100-member House this session comprise "more delegates representing our party than any time since the 1930s."
"We have an economic problem in our state," he said. "We are losing employment in some critical areas. We want to put more money in the pockets of our people."
The House Minority Leader, who has been in the Legislature since 1998, said West Virginia's unemployment rate is "going up while we are in session and is now 60,300."