Officials of West Virginia's two teachers' unions scored something of a victory last week, in delaying a state Senate vote on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's school reform bill.
A Senate vote had been expected Friday, opening the way for the House of Delegates to begin considering the bill today. But senators postponed their vote.
It was no secret that pressure from the West Virginia Education Association and the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers led to the delay. During the weekend, senators were discussing amendments to the bill, to address some of the unions' objections.
WVEA and AFT-WV officials have blasted the governor's proposal, saying they see little in it to like. They object to provisions about how teachers are hired and transferred, how county boards of education handle the school-year calendar, and use of teachers with "alternative certification," among other things. Although a few minor changes in the bill had been made in Senate committees, it was to go to the floor largely as Tomblin wished.
As we have noted previously, the bill is not perfect. No comprehensive reform measure on any subject is without flaws.
But the Tomblin bill appears to be a good start toward improving Mountain State public schools. Some of its greatest strengths are in provisions most fiercely fought by the unions. For example, granting school boards more flexibility in when classes are held is important to ensure children actually are being taught for an adequate period of time each year.
Some changes may have to be made to bring the bill to a vote in the Senate. But senators should not bow to the unions' demands to virtually gut the measure, eliminating some of its most important features.
The two unions wield enormous political power. It is not too much to say that some legislators fear crossing them will mean they are not re-elected.
But state senators, then delegates, should bear this in mind: They represent all West Virginians, including many who are deeply concerned about public schools.