Lawmakers agree W.Va. needs to focus on education

CHARLESTON,W.Va. – Local lawmakers agreed education will be one of the top issues that will be dealt with during the legislative session as Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin gave his State of the State address Wednesday evening.

The regular legislative session began Wednesday with the governor giving his State of the State address that evening.

Delegate Dan Poling, D-Wood, said the governor touched on topics that will be important for lawmakers to address in the coming session.

“He has opened up the debate we will have,” Poling said.

Poling said the Legislature needs to be discussing issues like the education audit that was critical of the state school systems, pipeline safety after the pipeline explosion near Sissonville, ensuring the state has a well trained, drug-free workforce, and infrastructure improvements.

“We have around 2,000 to 2,500 bills introduced during a session,” Poling said. “Of those, only around 180-200 are actually passed.”

Delegate Tom Azinger, R-Wood, said the governor’s speech was upbeat and touched on points he expects will be dealt with in the upcoming session.

Azinger said he appreciated the attention to education and addressing the need to do something about the state’s growing drug problem. He liked that no new taxes were included in the governor’s budget proposal and liked the idea of using unspent money to help balance the state budget.

Azinger believes more attention should be given to the state’s vocational schools.

“Some of the best paying jobs coming to West Virginia don’t require a college education, but they do require good vocational training,” he said.

An economic survey presented to lawmakers said the state has around 60,000 unemployed people with 7,200 jobs lost in the logging, mining and construction fields.

A proposal to put more authority back into the hands of local school boards met with Azinger’s approval.

“If you talk to the people in education, they will tell you that there are too many people in administration,” he said. “The system is too top heavy.”

Administration-level positions could be eliminated and the money used to actually educate students, Azinger said.

Azinger said the governor should have mentioned the number of regulations that have been detrimental to business development across the state. The Legislature has taken action to eliminate the state’s corporate franchise tax to provide new opportunities for business development, he said.

Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, said education will be a big issue. She serves on the education committee.

The governor talked about West Virginia schools having great teachers and high ranks for funding. However, in some surveys the state ranked close to the bottom in the country in student achievement, test scores and the states graduation rate is only 78 percent, Boley said.

Boley agreed with the growing importance of vocational education in training the states workforce.

Boley expects bills to start being introduced today and work will begin on those.

She agrees with the governors stand to give more authority back to principals. She thought the governor should have gone further in addressing drug testing.

The governor should get some credit in managing the states budget where they are still cutting taxes, like the food tax, which will be eliminated this year, with no increases in taxes, Boley said.

We do have a balanced budget, unlike the federal government, Boley said.