Commentary: Tomblin faces decision on 180 days

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Commentary: Tomblin faces decision on 180 days
By Hoppy Kercheval, WV MetroNews

For years, the goal of 180 days of instruction for public school children in West Virginia was taken lightly. Arbitrary start and end dates to the school year, combined with snow days, contributed to many counties consistently failing to meet the standard.

That changed in 2013 when the legislature passed Governor Tomblin’s comprehensive education reform bill, which opened the calendar and required 180 separate days of instruction.  The calendar changes took effect last school year.

Tomblin mentioned those reforms during his State of the State address earlier this year.  “At a time when comprehensive reform has led to real improvements, and our students are more competitive with their peers in other states, we need to build on these successes, not introduce legislation that prioritizes summer vacations over a good education.”

But that’s exactly what happened.

The Senate and House of Delegates approved by wide margins HB 4171 that rolls back the school calendar reforms. Under the bill, the school year could not begin before August 10 and must be concluded by June 10.

Additionally, counties can use “banked” minutes from a slightly longer school day to reach the equivalent of 180 days, thus eliminating the requirement for 180 separate days of instruction.

State School Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano believes the Governor should veto the bill. “I think right now with the state Board (of Education) working together, we have already provided flexibility opportunities, but we cannot back off in terms of what really constitutes meaningful instruction time,” he told me on Talkline last week.

Martirano has also told superintendents to back up the standardized testing to the very end of the school year to try to maximize instructional time and reduce the number of wasted days after testing when little gets accomplished.

State School Board President Mike Green also believes Tomblin should veto the bill. “I’m for making sure children get the full 180 days,” Green told me.  “Banking minutes does not add any real serious time for education.”

An independent audit by Public Works LLC of the Department of Education in 2012 found that “the majority of states (29) require 180 days of school per year; 11 states require more than 180.” The study also said, “Research shows that lower-income students lose more ground during summer breaks than higher-income children.”

It’s unclear which way Tomblin is leaning. He’s been a stickler for the 180 days, but allowing the use of banked minutes is popular with teachers.  Since there’s no money for pay raises, signing HB 4171 would be a way for the Governor to give school teachers a little something.

That’s tempting, given the importance of school teachers. However, it took a long time to finally codify the standard for instructional days, while giving counties the flexibility to meet that standard.  Let’s not roll back the progress that has been made.