Gov. Manchin called the Legislature into a special session
last month to pass education reform legislation, designed at giving West
Virginia a better chance at winning federal Race to
the Top school funding. But when work on the bills stalled, the governor sent
lawmakers home after a week of work.
After two weeks of meeting in working groups, the
legislation still isn’t ready to be considered by the full Legislature. Members
of the working group came to a consensus on four of the eight bills—including a
measure that would introduce charter schools to the state.
The charter schools bill was heavily opposed by West
Virginia’s two teachers’ unions. West Virginia
Education Association President Dale Lee says he was disappointed that the unions
didn’t have more of a say in the working groups, and that the legislation still
“There are still things about the bill that we have problems
with,” Lee said.
“We still want to ensure that money’s not taken from other
public schools, we want to ensure that you can’t start up a new charter school
and put it in a building that the county has closed because of high maintenance
costs or the age of the building or something like that. We want to ensure that
every child has a great public school experience in West
Virginia, and there are still some things in the bill
that don’t allow that.”
The group also worked on bills that would institute annual
personnel evaluations, create collaborative teams of teachers, and mandate
comprehensive health screenings for students.
There is still uncertainty about the possibility of a third
round of Race to the Top funding. The federal government hasn’t committed to
it, but Manchin says U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has assured him he
would like to have a third round, as well.
Jim Pitrolo is the governor’s legislative director. He says
the legislation is still geared toward Race to the Top, but will be beneficial
to the state, regardless.
“The same goals would be toward third round Race to the Top,
but more importantly, even if they don’t have a third round Race to the Top, we
feel that the way they’ve now worked these initiatives is they’re just good
reform for education in West Virginia,” Pitrolo said.
Legislators now have another six weeks to find common ground
on the governor’s four remaining bills.
Lee says there are other education reforms he’d like the
Legislature to consider.
“Things like class size, collaborative time for teachers,”
he said. “Those are issues that we want to bring to the table and we’ve been
assured by the governor that once we get through these eight bills, that we
will have the opportunity to talk about the true reform measures that will work
and research says will work.”
The Legislature will reconvene for the special session on
July 19, during that month’s interim committee meetings.