They believe until
legislators take on the issues outside the classroom, like poverty, hunger and
emotional issues of children, our education system will never see the success
we are trying to attain.
The Senate Education
Committee and its Chair Senator Robert Plymale of Wayne County have been debating the Governor’s Education Reform
Bill more heavily this week, as they work to prepare a committee substitute.
“We have met with the
governor’s office and we’ve met with the teaching entities. We have addressed
each issue that they have brought up and come to compromise or improving upon
either clarification or possibly even a re-write of a section to make sure that
any unintended consequences are not in the bill as we move forward,” Plymale
“I’m not saying that they
agree on everything that we’re doing. We’re no going to have that.”
Senate Education members
heard testimony this week from citizens who wished to speak for or against the
bill, including representatives from both the American Federation of Teachers
and the West Virginia Education Association.
Plymale said, at this point,
the feedback they’re receiving is about 50/50, but when it comes to hiring, a
strong point of opposition for the unions, the committee has yet to make a
“I think the governor and the
bill that he put forth relating to hiring criteria is good and there are no
changes to that,” Plymale said.
Plymale said, however, he’s
uncomfortable with Gov. Tomblin’s position on specifically naming the
national program Teach For America in the bill and we can expect to see that included in
After passage by the
Education Committee, the bill will move on to Senate Finance for review.
Plymale said he’s not sure
how long it will be before we see Senate Bill 359 back on the Senate floor, but
activists from another state project say there’s more to fixing the education
system than just what’s going on in the classroom.
Reconnecting McDowell is a
state-led initiative to help pull the county from its current economic strife
by improving its infrastructure, education and business climates.
Bob Brown, lead coordinator
for the project and lobbyist for the AFT, told member of the Senate Special
Committee on Children and Poverty, McDowell County school have been under the
control of the state for more than a decade and aren’t getting better. He said
that shows it will take more than just changes to hiring practices to fix the
“It’s high time that we take
this more holistic approach to educating our children. We have to begin to
recognize and deal with all of the outside of school issues that children are
dealing with today and if we don’t do that we can higher however you define the
best teacher in West Virginia, we can hire all of those,” Brown said. “Unless
and until we start dealing with those other issues, we’re never going to move
education and ultimately our population forward.”
Brown said we must begin to
take on the poverty, hunger and emotional issues these children are coming to
school with in order to help them achieve. But many of McDowell County’s struggles stem from a single-source industry that
has since left, coal.
“We’re never, ever, ever
going to have 70,000 coal mining jobs in McDowell County. It’s not going to happen. There will be some,” Brown
“So we have to diversify it
and we have to encourage entrepreneurship and small businesses, and a lot of
that will be contingent upon getting a highway coming through there.”
Senator Ron Stollings of Boone County said if we don’t begin to learn from this initiative
and start thinking more creatively, other counties, including his home county,
will see a similar depression in the future.
“This needs to really be, in
my mind, a wake up call for the entire coalfields. We do not want to have to be
reconnecting Mingo, Logan, Boone because we are not diversified yet,” Stollings
said. “We really need to, members of the body and committee, think hard and try
to develop infrastructure projects, post-mine land use, getting people out of
the flood plains.”
Committee Chair, Senator John
Unger of Berkeley County, said the committee is dedicated to taking a holistic
approach to decreasing the state’s poverty rates in children, just as Brown is
doing in McDowell County.
Brown said the outcome of
this five-year effort can be used as a template for other impoverished counties
in the state.