Lawmakers, educators react to Tomblin vetoes of education bills

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Lawmakers, educators react to Tomblin vetoes of education bills
By Pamela Pritt, Register-Herald Reporter

Lawmakers and education leaders alike said Saturday that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s veto of a bill that would allow accrued minutes to grow into instructional days is “a slap in the face.”

Delegate George “Boogie” Ambler, R-Greenbrier, said HB 4171 was “the one thing teachers saw as something that the legislature was doing to help with education.”

Ambler said the bill, which also set hard and fast dates for school to begin and end — no earlier than Aug. 10 and no later than June 10 — allowed for teachers to have summer jobs and for parents to plan for family vacations. The bill eliminated the 180-day instructional day mandate, as well.

"With proper planning, a county school system should be able to achieve 180 separate days of instruction without encroaching on summer vacation to a great degree,” Tomblin’s veto message said. “To be college and career ready, West Virginia’s students need to be in the classroom receiving instruction and learning for at least 180 separate days a year — even if this means making up lost time due to weather or emergencies.”

Ambler, who teaches 11th- and 12th-grade American government, civics and economics at Greenbrier East High School, said fewer than 5 percent of the state’s students go to school all 180 days that school is available.

“You’re talking about quantity, not quality,” said Delegate Dave Perry, D-Fayette. Perry said the “very simple bill” provided for 180 days and for school systems to be able to account for lost time. “It’s stupidity on the part of the governor and the Department of Education,” he continued.

School was still in session last year near the end of June in some counties and others began this school year around the beginning of August to make up for missing so much school during a harsh winter that dumped feet of snow at a time, particularly in the state’s mountain counties.

Perry, the former principal of Collins Middle School, said that kind of uncertainty in the school term “affects jobs, affects employment and affects tourism.” He echoed Ambler’s belief that 180 days only applies to a quantity of time, not the quality of instruction.

Both Ambler and Perry are on the House Education Committee.

The presidents of both teachers’ unions also agreed that HB 4171 could have been utilized by school districts and teachers to make up for lost time.

“I’m very, very disappointed (Tomblin) vetoed the calendar bill at a time when teachers are really taking the brunt of everything,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association. “No raises. PEIA in total disarray. More and more things being put on teachers. This is the one thing the governor could have done to show a little gratitude to teachers. This takes us a step backward and really is a slap in the face of teachers.”

Dale said the governor “doesn’t realize it’s not the quantity of time in the classroom, it’s the quality of time in the classroom.”

Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers West Virginia, said her union supported the calendar bill.

“It opened the door for summer programs that support learning beyond the classroom, like Energy Express for elementary students and summer camps that offer STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) opportunities,” Campbell said. “Also, a lot of teachers use the summer for professional development. That keeps them in the classroom more during the year.”

Campbell said the bill would have allowed counties to use accrued time in exchange for full days so counties that miss more school due to inclement weather had more flexibility.

“We still maintain that quality instruction is the most important piece of a child’s education and 180 days doesn’t necessarily ensure quality, it ensures quantity.”

Lee said he will urge Tomblin to put a school calendar bill on the call for the upcoming special session that will deal with the state’s budget shortfall.

“If he has major concerns with the beginning and ending dates, there’s compromises that can be reached,” Lee said.

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Tomblin also vetoed the other education bill passed by the legislature this year, HB 4014, which originally prohibited teachers from using any Common Core educational standards. As it passed, though, it only eliminated Smarter Balanced Assessments, which are aligned with not only Common Core standards, but also West Virginia College- and Career-Ready standards that were adopted by the State Board of Education last year.

Ambler and Perry said schools have to allow for 25 days of testing using Smarter Balanced Assessments, which Ambler said cost $7.5 million.

Both delegates said they supported using ACT tests, which could also be used by 11th-graders for college entrance exams, or ACT Aspire tests.

“Those could have been done in a week,” Ambler said, “and are already aligned (with the state’s standards). The idea is we are attempting to cut the test window.”

ACT exams are also $2 million cheaper, he said, with a price tag of $5 million.

Perry said the State Department of Education opposed the bill and swayed Tomblin to veto the bill.

“You have a bureaucracy that’s been created and it’s unwilling to listen to the public and to the parents,” Perry said. The legislature, he said, “tried to listen to the constituency. I think it’s disgusting for teachers to be totally ignored by both the State Department (of Education) and the governor.”

State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Martirano told lawmakers during the session that Smarter Balanced Assessments have only been used one time, and the delays in testing were because of too few computers in schools, as well as inadequate Internet bandwidth since the tests are all administered online.

Martirano said he needs more time — at least three years of testing — in order to evaluate Smarter Balanced, which he said is aligned with the standards the state now uses.

But Martirano had some discontent with Smarter Balanced Assessments in his own camp.

Lee is on the superintendent’s testing task force.

“We are opposed to Smarter Balanced Assessment and are ready to get rid of the Smarter Balanced Test,” he said. Lee said the task force “leaned toward” the ACT and ACT Aspire tests. “It gave students something to be held accountable for.”

He said Smarter Balanced does not have tests for ninth- and 10th-graders, who had to take the 11th-grade exams “with easier questions.” But that meant West Virginia’s freshmen and sophomores were compared to juniors around the country.

Campbell said maintaining the state’s educational standards was important.

“We’ve been talking about this for two years and this bill would have put an old debate to rest and now (the veto) allows for that discussion to continue,” she said.

The state has other education issues to address, she said, including implementing the standards, providing classroom resources and professional development for teachers.

Her concern with the bill was the “overreach of the legislature” in prescribing which assessments could or could not be used.

Both union presidents said they were not in favor of the panel created by the bill. Appointed by deans of English, mathematics and science from West Virginia University and Marshall University, the panel would have evaluated the state’s education standards and made recommendations to the State Board of Education.

A Department of Education attorney said during the session that recommendations were acceptable, but if the panel was meant to enforce its recommendations, then the bill may have crossed constitutional lines.

“We know the State Department (of Education) works with teachers in the state who are experts in their field and are better equipped to determine the right folks to review assessments and identify assessments that are truly aligned to the standards,” Campbell said.

In his veto message, Tomblin said the state should give the new standards and measures "added time to take hold, and see what works and what does not.”

"We need to be cautious not to undermine stability for our teachers or the children they are trying to educate," Tomblin wrote.