Guest column: Bill is a step in the right direction

This week in the Senate started off much in the same way it ended last week, with discussion about the education reform bill, Senate Bill 359.

Much has been made about the education system in West Virginia ever since the long awaited audit was released showing deficiencies in the education system which, if addressed, could save money and potentially improve our failing national rankings.

While this wide ranging bill doesn’t necessarily touch on every one of the recommendations outlined in the audit, it is a step in the right direction on the path to quality reform. It also represent a well worked out compromise between members of the Senate as well as the House in consultation with a group of stakeholders, the Board of Education, Department of Education and Governor’s office.

With the revision made in the Senate, the bill will no longer allow the nonprofit Teach for America program to operate in West Virginia.

Instead, we plan on studying programs such as this to see about their feasability in West Virginia.

Also, under this compromise, school principals and faculty senates will have a say over teacher hires with their recommendations receiving double weight among 11 factors used to fill teaching jobs. Additional factors will also include seniority and whether teachers have a certificate from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

The bill also authorizes school boards to pay teachers who serve on panels that recommend teachers for jobs. Teachers will get a minimum of 40 minutes of planning time each day.

The initial bill proposed changing state law so county school boards could offer a “balanced” or year-round calendar. State law now limits the school calendar to 43 weeks. The revised bill increases the yearly school calendar to 48 weeks providing more flexibility to local boards on how to schedule their school years which could include year-round calendars.

Another provision in the bill would no longer require state schools superintendents to hold a master’s in education administration. The reason behind this change is to potentially increase the pool of applicants for the superintendent’s post.

Some other provisions tn the bill would provide elementary school teachers with specialized training designed to increase the number of third-graders who end that year reading at grade level, and make possible for full-day pre-K programs to be available to 4-year-olds statewide.

Nothing is more important for the future of West Virginia than to provide a quality education to the generations who will follow us in the future. The rights of gaining an education are outlined by our state Constitution and with our national rankings near the bottom of the country, we must and will do better for our children. This is one way to combat many problems facing West Virginians who feel hopeless by giving them hope through a quality education.

If you should have any questions or comments regarding any issues on any other pieces of legislation when they come before the Legislature, feel free to contact me here at my Charleston office. My address is: Senator Jack Yost, State Capitol Complex, Building 1, Room 214W, Charleston, WV 25305. My telephone number is (304) 357-7984 and my secretary is Wanda Casto. When calling the toll free number 1-877-565-3447, ask to be transferred. I encourage all my constituents to remain active and become part of the legislative process. I look forward to hearing from you.

(Yost, a Democrat from Wellsburg, represents the 1st Senatorial District in the West Virginia Legislature)