March 22, 2013
House passes Tomblin school reform bill
Dems praise 'landmark legislation'; GOP calls it 'a feel-good bill' of 'baby steps'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education bill, which overhauls teacher-hiring practices and widens the yearly school calendar, just needs his signature to become law.

The House of Delegates passed the legislation (SB359) Friday by a 95-2 vote.

House Democrats praised the legislation as "bold" and comprehensive, while their Republican counterparts said the changes were "baby steps."

"No bill is perfect," said Delegate Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln, an assistant principal at Horace Mann Middle School in Charleston, "but this bill does a whole lot of good things. This is going to be good for kids."

The state Senate passed the bill unanimously on Monday.

Education reform stood at the top of Tomblin's legislative agenda. The bill followed a sweeping $750,000 audit of West Virginia's public schools system. The report said West Virginia has one of the most highly regulated education systems in the country, has too much administrative overhead and has boxed itself in with cumbersome laws that don't allow for innovation.

Tomblin's education bill incorporated some of the audit's recommendations, but left out many others. The governor also has issued executive orders and worked with the state Board of Education to fix problems identified in the audit.

"Overall, I think we got an excellent bill," Tomblin said after a news conference following the House vote.

The governor described the bill as "landmark legislation." He said it will improve teaching, increase student achievement and ensure "all public education will be delivered locally, not by Charleston," referring to the state Department of Education.

"We've spent months crafting this historic legislation," Tomblin said. "I believe our kids will be better prepared for future opportunities because of this bill."

Before Friday's vote, House Republicans said Tomblin's bill fell short.

"I thought we had a golden opportunity to enact change," said Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, "but this is just a feel-good bill with baby steps in the right direction."

House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said Tomblin's bill "didn't get to where we needed to go." Armstead said the bill doesn't shift enough decision-making power from the Department of Education to local schools.

"I don't think it's bold; I don't think it's comprehensive," Armstead said. "But we can be bold and comprehensive if we continue to work on this issue. We still have a lot of work to do on education."

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