The Times West Virginian

March 7, 2013

Leaders must resolve their disagreements over education

Times West Virginian

— Disagreement has certainly surfaced over parts of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s proposed overhaul of West Virginia’s public education system.

Senate Education Committee Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, said emotion will surely be in the mix when discussing the nearly 200-page bill introduced on behalf of Tomblin.

“That’s natural when you have bills of this nature and of this magnitude,” Plymale said.

All sides, though, know that the status quo is not acceptable.

Education, you will recall, dominated Tomblin’s State of the State address last month. It came in the wake of the state’s Education Efficiency Audit that con­trasted hefty spending — the proposed budg­et will devote $2 billion to public schools, or 46 percent of general tax and lottery rev­enues — with poor student performance rankings.

The governor conceded that “good things” are happening in West Virginia schools but that “our student achievement is falling behind — and that is not acceptable.”

Among the alarming statistics — a state graduation rate of 78 percent and the highest percentage of young people ages 16 to 19 not engaged in school or the workforce.

Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, was critical of many parts of the bill during an Education Committee meeting in Charleston on Tuesday.

At the same time, The Associated Press reported, she expressed strong support for provisions that would expand pre-kindergarten classes for 4-year-olds statewide, seek to make sure that all third-graders are reading at grade level, offer teachers in critical-need subjects and communities college loans, cover the $1,150 renewal fee for nationally certified teachers, and beef up vocational-technical training.

The State Journal reported that West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee, while expressing concerns, referenced a yet-unseen committee substitute to the bill that is coming from negotiations with Tomblin’s staff, Education Committee staff and education stakeholders.

Teachers, rightfully, don’t want to accept an unreasonable part of the blame for West Virginia’s difficulties with education.

Hale noted that the state also rates poorly for health. Yet no one is alleging that that’s because West Virginia has bad hospitals or doctors, Hale said.

However, it’s critical that the state find a way to get the best teachers in the classroom and ensure sufficient resources are directed there.

“Current hiring practices in our state do not guarantee that the best teacher is the one actually selected for the job,” Tomblin said. “In fact, in many cases, it prevents otherwise good teachers from even qualifying for the job.”

The American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia’s concern that the state has lost 700 classroom teachers over the last decade while the number of administrators and other non-teaching professionals has grown by more than 1,000 should be addressed. Hale also said that the salary gap between teachers and top administrators widened during that time. She presented the figures Wednesday with Jackee Long of the School Service Personnel Association. Both, according to The Associated Press, called on lawmakers to focus more on the education system’s bureaucracy.

As we noted following the State of the State speech, we trust good ideas will be exchanged and debated in good faith both behind closed doors and in public, including when the Education Committee meets again today.

Tomblin continues to express optimism that education reform will pass this session. It’s a matter so important that West Virginia simply can’t afford to fail.