Tomblin Signs Education Bill Into Law - Beckley, Bluefield & Lewisburg News, Weather, Sports

Tomblin Signs Education Bill Into Law

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Nearly three weeks after it passed the full Legislature, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed Senate Bill 359 into law.

Tomblin's education reform bill is the second bill Tomblin has signed into law, and several others are waiting on his action.

The bill generated weeks of debate and work while it was in the Senate, and several compromises were struck with the state's two teachers' unions before it was ever put up to a vote.

Only two lawmakers voted against the bill – Delegate Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, and Delegate Marty Gearhart, R-Mercer.

If signed by Tomblin, it goes into effect June 20.

One of the biggest changes that will be seen right away is flexibility for local school boards to set their own school calendars. This provision has been the state's strongest step toward reaching 180 days of instruction within a school year, but it does mandate four weeks for schools to be closed in order to perform maintenance.

The bill was criticized for not making any personnel cuts despite a year-long education efficiency audit that found a top-heavy bureaucracy in the state's education system.

The bill offers student loans to teachers in areas of critical need, and it pays for the renewal of national certification for teachers who reach that status.

It also requires counties offer the option of full-day, four-year-old preschool programs five days per week and allows for teacher input on the hiring process.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said after the bill was signed that it is the first step in reforming education.

"Now we can concentrate on the things that will make an almost immediate impact on our student achievement," Lee said. "And that's the truancy issue, the poverty issue, the collaboration time for teachers and getting the best teachers in the classroom … and that's going to involve teachers' salaries that have to improve."

The aspects of the bill that are less clear and will take longer to implement are career readiness initiatives and more teacher training for an increased focus on third-grade reading skills.