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Tomblin, stakeholders pleased with WV education reform passage

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Stakeholders across the state are breathing a sigh of relief now that Senate Bill 359 is on its way to the governor's desk.

SB 359, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's education reform bill, cleared its last hurdle Friday when it passed the House of Delegates by a 95-2 vote. Tomblin joined members of the Legislature, House and Senate leadership and representatives of the West Virginia Education Association and West Virginia Department of Education Friday afternoon to thank supporters and look to the future.

"This is a remarkable day," said Senate Education Committee Chairman Bob Plymale, D-Wayne. "About 11 or so years ago, the governor asked me to be education chair. I never thought we'd be standing here today talking about a major piece of legislation we had just passed. It's pretty remarkable."

Plymale thanked the members and staff of the Senate Education Committee for their dedication after many long hours were spent hammering out the details of the bill, which unanimously passed the Senate on Monday.

"It is a great day and this is all about kids, its all about … children and preparing for the work force of tomorrow," Plymale said.

Delegate Josh Stowers, D-Lincoln, is vice-chairman of the House Education Committee, but his time away from the Capitol is spent in the halls of Horace Mann Middle School, where he serves as assistant principal. To him, education reform is personal.

"I think the one thing important to see here is this is the way the process is supposed to work," Stowers said. "Across the aisle, both houses coming together, all stakeholders coming together to do something that matters for West Virginia's future, matters for our children and matters for all of us.

"This is personal to everybody. Everybody has a kid; everybody has a grandkid; everybody has a niece or a nephew. This is personal for everybody. I think we did a great service for our students in the state of West Virginia and for their future."

Tomblin called for education reform in his Feb. 13 State of the State address, more than a year after an education efficiency audit was released. SB 359 was introduced in the Senate Feb. 25 and was subjected to hours of meetings and scrutiny before being passed out of the Senate Education and Finance committees. The House of Delegates received the bill Monday afternoon. The House Education Committee met the following day and passed the bill out of committee without amendments, clearing the way for passage Friday. It was a quick though arduous process, but WVEA President Dale Lee said he feels like he's been working on education reform for many years.

"It is a historic moment in West Virginia, but we have to remember this is just the first stepping stone," Lee said. "Teachers and service professionals across West Virginia want their voices heard and want education reform that focuses on student achievement. We know that with this piece of legislation out of the way, now it is time to double the efforts on things that we know will make an immediate impact on student achievement — things such as collaboration time, strengthening our truancy policy, strengthening our mentorship programs, looking at parental actability and, yes, making sure we have the best teachers in front of our students each and every day and that includes paying them for their work. It's time now to roll up our sleeves. We can pat ourselves on the back for this but its time to roll up our sleeves and move forward as we make education for every child in West Virginia the cornerstone."

State Superintendent James Phares said education reform is just the beginning, something Tomblin echoed in his closing remarks.

"It's a start, a new start, at reforming West Virginia's education system so our kids really can be successful and have the tools they need," Tomblin said. "We have a lot to look forward to in West Virginia but we can't do it without an educated work force."