The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

March 14, 2013

Governor’s education bill may be ready for full Senate vote on Friday

CHARLESTON — Marathon sessions. Packed committee rooms. All eyes riveted on the senators seated around the horseshoe table.

When the dust cleared, the Senate Education Committee wrapped up its work on a contentious education reform package Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin proposed to improve public schooling in West Virginia.

Now comes the easy part. Relatively easy, that is.

Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso’s panel plans to take up the financial end of the 189-page bill today, and if all goes well, the huge document could be up for a final Senate vote Friday.

“There shouldn’t be any real policy changes made by the finance committee,” Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, said after Wednesday’s brief floor session.

“They’re looking at the money aspect only. Unless there’s something in the bill that is so financially out of whack, it could be on second reading tomorrow, then that would put it on target for third and final reading Friday.”

West Virginia’s two teacher unions are bitterly opposed to the bill, calling it a “teacher bashing” proposal, and have said that a strike hasn’t been ruled out, since “everything is on the table.”

“I think we’ve made a lot of progress,” said Kessler, who on day one predicted his chamber would get the bill out at the midway mark of the session, which arrived this week.

“It appears to be in pretty good shape. I know there are some issues yet, particularly considering the seniority that is so disquieting to some of the folks in the unions. I think we’ve got a bill in as good a posture as we’ve been able to get out over here. The governor seems to be comfortable with it. We’re still looking at some things. We’ll see where they go.”

Prezioso planned to crunch the numbers Wednesday night with the state Board of Education before an early morning meeting.

“We’ll put all that together,” Prezioso, D-Marion, said.

“Hopefully, we’ll let our members know the fiscal impact and we’ll get it down on the floor.”

The bill was read for a first time in Wednesday’s session, and barring any unforeseen delay, that means the Senate could ship it down the hall to the House of Delegates Friday.

“The Education Committee has debated the policy part of it,” Prezioso said.

“Finance is to scrutinize the fiscal note on it. I can’t prohibit any of my members from making a substantive amendment. But I think everybody knows what’s in this bill now.”

Both the West Virginia Education Association and American Federation of Teachers say the bill does nothing to improve student achievement, empower local school boards and address the top-heaviness of the state Board of Education.

Of particular concern to the two groups is the proposed use of Teach In America, which would provide uncertified teachers to plug shortages in certain geographic areas.

Observers feel SB359 is in for some tough and arduous sledding once it arrives in the House of Delegates, with less than a month left in the 2013 session.

“I know it will go to the House and need some further work that both houses have to do,” Prezioso added.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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