Battle rages in W.Va. over control of public school policy
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin talks to students after a classroom demonstration by students at West Virginia University in Morgantown on Wednesday, April 9, 2014. The governor said the West Virginia Board of Education is not listening to West Virginia public school teachers. At left is Dr. Bob McCarty. (West Virginia Department of Education)
MORGANTOWN — The political passions that roiled the air when Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, took office were once again swirling Wednesday in West Virginia, where the governor’s political future and control of the state’s public school system are in the balance.
The state Board of Education, which controls nearly every aspect of public education in the state, is not listening to the teachers who want to see the state’s charter school system be expanded and the number of high school diplomas awarded to college-bound students doubled.
And while Tomblin has made education reform a priority as state budget director, he is increasingly frustrated that other Republicans and education advocates refuse to budge.
“They will do anything to keep education a state responsibility,” Tomblin, said, adding that he believes there must be a change in philosophy and a move away from “the status quo.”
The issue of school reform is playing out as the Legislature, which returns to the Capitol this week, faces an equally complicated balancing act on the budget. The state’s fiscal outlook is a mix of projected and unmet needs and demands, with no clear solution in sight.
The governor says he believes public school teachers in West Virginia are underpaid and that they are treated more as servants than teachers in many other states. The state has a teacher shortage in most areas, and West Virginia Education Association President Michael Adams said most of the teachers want more control over the state’s public education system.
“We are fighting for a more competitive system,” he said. “We’re