West Virginia governor focuses on education in State of the State address
By Phil Sletten
CHARLESTON, West Virginia: West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D) pledged to pursue education reform in West Virginia in his February 13, 2013 State of the State address. He also presented a balanced budget with cuts to all programs except for a few key areas.
Tomblin's speech called for several new education initiatives, including expanding pre-kindergarten for 4-year-olds into a statewide program and increasing the high school graduation rate. The governor noted that West Virginia has the nation's highest percentage of 16- to 19-year-olds that are not in school or in the workforce, and that Education Week ranked the state 49th nationally.
Other education-related priorities listed by the governor included getting all children to grade reading level by the end of third grade, reforming teacher hiring practices, and decentralizing control of the school systems from the State Board of Education to local school boards. The last two initiatives could lead to political clashes with teachers unions and the Board of Education, although the primary flexibility Tomblin is seeking for local school boards in the near-term regards setting school calendars.
Aside from education reform, Tomblin also proposed plans to reduce overcrowding in prisons. Specifically, he indicated that those who violate controlled substance laws should be able to find support through a new state initiative focused on treatment, rather than solely punishment, to reduce repeat offenses. Tomblin expressed disdain for the national Environmental Protection Agency, stating that, "I will continue to do everything that I can to fight the EPA and its misguided attempts to cripple this industry."
The balanced budget plan that Tomblin presented to the legislature requires a 7.5 percent cut in spending from all agencies and programs with the exception of Medicaid, mine safety, public education, the PROMISE scholarship, and the State Police force.
Tomblin noted that 2013 marks West Virginia's 150th year as a state. The state split from Virginia during the Civil War.