CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, legislators and education officials agree: the time to reform West Virginia education is now.
The governor and leaders from both chambers of the Legislature all emphasized education Thursday during an annual legislative forum hosted by The Associated Press.
"As we go into this coming session, I know a great deal of time is going to be spent on education," Tomblin said during the event held on the Marshall University Graduate College in South Charleston.
The governor will give his State of the State speech to the Legislature on Wednesday, and the 60-day regular session will get under way.
Since the release of an education efficiency audit in January 2012, Tomblin has acknowledged the need for change several times.
On Thursday he hinted at some of the themes he could address early in the session - calendar flexibility; a shift of control to local school systems; reading proficiency; and general system effectiveness in preparing students for life after high school.
Right now state code mandates how county school systems set their calendars, explained state Superintendent Jim Phares, who spoke before Tomblin.
Without providing details about his own legislative priorities, Phares hinted that laws pertaining to school calendars are getting a serious look from his department.
Re-imagining the structure of education was one of the top priorities in the state Board of Education's response to the audit.
The year-round, or balanced, school calendar played a large role in the board's response. Phares and board members have said they don't want to mandate a new calendar, but Phares reiterated Thursday that it's an option that could work better for many counties.
Tomblin didn't specifically mention the year-round calendar, but he did say some responsibilities should shift from the state Department of Education to the county school systems.
That was a recommendation in the audit and has received a great deal of attention from legislators and educators alike.
Phares said the department is continually trying to decrease its bureaucracy, including eliminating some of its own policies. He plans to ask the Legislature to eliminate antiquated code.
Phares was joined by David Haney, the executive director of the West Virginia Education Association, and Terry Wallace, a senior fellow at West Liberty University, for a panel discussion on education.