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WV Senate holds over vote on education reform bill

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Both chambers of the West Virginia Legislature say they want a strong education reform bill.

And that's why the Senate twice delayed action on the measure, Senate Bill 359, Friday.

"We can fly something out of there, but if it doesn't pass (the House of Delegates), it's not law. If the governor doesn't sign it, it's not law," Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said after the Senate adjourned for the second time Friday afternoon.

"At the end of the day, it's going to be a cooperative effort between the stakeholders and the executive," Kessler said. "It's the governor's initiative and he's very highly involved, as well as legislative leaders, to see if we can get this thing done."

Kessler said the Senate has been meeting with stakeholders, including teachers unions, to iron out some of the remaining contentious issues in the bill, namely teacher seniority, the 180-day calendar and Teach for America. But Kessler said he thinks the final bill will please those stakeholders and gain support in the House.

"There's three or four issues," Kessler said. "I haven't been involved directly with the discussion. Hiring practices are obviously an issue. The calendar is another issue. I think we're making significant progress. We're close, but not completely there."

Kessler said the Legislature is "better off taking a deep breath," rather than passing the bill out too quickly.

Senate Bill 359 experienced a few stumbling blocks in committees. The Senate Education Committee took the first crack at it, meeting several times in recent weeks to work on the big issues. The Senate Finance Committee discussed the bill Thursday and passed it, though not unanimously, to the full Senate without any amendments.

There, rules to read the bill on three separate days were suspended so the bill could be taken up for vote immediately.

The Senate was originally scheduled to vote on the bill at 11 a.m. Friday, but Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, moved to recess the Senate until 2 p.m. so negotiations on SB 359 could continue. The Senate gaveled back in at about 3 p.m., when Unger then moved to lay the bill over until Monday.

Kessler said not acting on the bill immediately will allow the Senate to make sure the bill will pass both chambers soon.

"I think we're getting close. We figured we'd take another day or two and see if we can get a final version that maybe is more acceptable to both sides so we can get a bill hopefully through the whole Legislature by the end of the week," Kessler said.

The Senate will meet at 11 a.m. Monday.