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Education a big part of Tomblin's State of the State

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Education was a big part of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's State of the State address Feb. 13, and some lawmakers say they applaud his efforts to reform the state's education system.

Delegates Suzette Raines, R-Kanawha, and Carol Miller, R-Cabell, both said education is the cornerstone of a strong economy, and they were happy Tomblin dedicated such a large portion of his speech to education reform.

"I'm specifically interested in student-centered education reform," Raines said. "I'm excited to see some of the work he's talking about—repealing some of the sections of the code that are antiquated."

Tomblin mentioned in his 44-minute speech some proposals that would affect hiring policies and school calendars. Last year's education audit looked at those two issues and suggested some changes.

"If we are going to make schools more accountable for their results, we must give teachers and principals a greater role in selecting the colleagues with whom they will share that responsibility," Tomblin said. Tomblin also said seniority should not be the only thing considered when hiring new teachers.

"Additionally, seniority always must be an important consideration, but seniority should not be the only decisive or controlling action of hiring practices," he said in his speech. "Other qualifications must count as well."

"I think he's right on the money," Miller said of Tomblin's education proposals. "All the reforms he spoke about in education are definitely needed."

In Tomblin's 2012 State of the State, he noted several new companies were looking to locate in West Virginia and said some companies already located in the state would expand. This year, however, Tomblin didn't spend a lot of time talking about new jobs or job creation, but Miller said she thinks the governor is concentrating on the back end of economic growth by talking about education.

"He's focusing on the important aspect of educating our children so they are capable of holding down jobs," Miller said. "When we have an educated workforce, I think that will make a difference."

Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, said she was pleased to hear Tomblin concentrate so much on education.

"Education was huge," she said. "You know, for the governor to make the address he did about education - and what really impressed me about that is he wants to give more control to the local school districts.

"I'm from Ohio County, and I'm so pleased to hear that. We have one of the best local school districts in the state."

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce issued a news release Feb. 14 stating it was ready to support the governor's education initiatives.

"The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce supports bold reforms that will be proposed this legislative session," the news release states. "Education reform was a major topic of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's State of the State speech last night and will likely be the primary topic of discussion for the Legislature."

Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said that while Tomblin's plans looked at nearly every aspect of education, some things were left out.

"Smaller class size, collaboration time, things that will work, but they come at a cost," he said. "So we have to really look at putting student achievement at the cornerstone of the reform."

But Delegate Troy Andes, R-Putnam and founder of the New Majority Fund, said in a statement that jobs, not education, must be the Legislature's No. 1 priority heading into the 2013 session.

"The focus of our governor and Legislature needs to be on creating jobs, growing West Virginia's economy and passing tax and legal reforms," he said. "West Virginia is in the midst of a jobs crisis and many people are ignoring reality and refusing to make jobs and the economy a priority this legislative session."

Delegate Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said that with so many West Virginians out of work, Tomblin needs to be more realistic.

"We do have challenges, and we have more than 60, or almost 60,000 of our fellow West Virginians out of work today, as we stand here, so I don't think we can paint this rosy picture that everything's going great and we're wonderful and we don't need to change anything," he said. "I think that's just not realistic."

Raines said although she was discouraged the governor didn't talk much about job creation, she wants to remain optimistic.

"We heard an economic forecast from the West Virginia University business and economic college today and the only areas that show growth between now and 2017 are the health industry—that's due to aging population, that's not economic development—manufacturing and construction," Raines said. "Construction was the only area where there was promise. That's true economic development.

"But the percentage in construction was only because they dropped so low, so that's why it looks like they'll have such a significant gain."

Raines suggested that in order to have true economic development, the state would have to reform its tax code and repeal some regressive regulations on business.

"But it all relates back to education," she said. "Every single issue that's brought up here tonight goes back to education. If we don't have a prepared, skilled work force businesses won't locate here."