CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A newly created legislative group will research topics addressed in a massive audit of West Virginia's education system.
The nine-member group will also serve as a resource in case other legislators have questions ahead of the upcoming legislative session.
House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, announced Thursday he had appointed the group's members. The group will delve into the audit and ask questions of state education leaders.
Commissioned by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and released in January, the audit recommended more than 50 changes that could save the state millions while increasing efficiency.
The group, consisting of five Democrats and four Republicans, will make sure other legislators understand the document and how others in the education community feel about it, Thompson said in a phone interview.
"This is more of a resource (and) fact-gathering group to provide information on the issue," Thompson said.
Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, helped Thompson pick the members. He said he's expecting the group to work with legislative staff members to distill the bulk of the information surrounding the audit into clear, concise goals that could be accomplished through legislation.
There has been little legislative action regarding those recommendations since the audit was released. In January, leaders from the House and Senate education committees said they wanted to review it thoroughly and didn't expect resulting legislation to come up in 2012.
That will change when the session starts this February, said Del. David Perry in a phone interview Thursday.
"I think that the audit will be the primary focus of all (education) legislation this session," said Perry, D-Fayette.
Perry is a member of the House education committee and will lead the work group, Thompson said. Perry is also chairman of a committee created to look at the audit and other financial issues between last legislative session and the upcoming session. He said his work on that committee would help him steer the group.
"We're at the point now where we need to start vetting the short-term and long-term issues," Perry said.
In addition to answering questions from other legislators, Perry said the group would focus on how to proceed with some of the audit's larger recommendations. He said the group is expected to come up with some sort of education reform legislation, but not necessarily soon.
Thompson said the he wants the group to wait and see what Tomblin presents before pushing legislation.
"It's his audit, so I want to see what the governor proposes," Thompson said.
Delegate Daryl Cowles of Morgan County, one of the Republicans appointed to the group, said he was hopeful Tomblin would be a "forceful leader" on education reform.