CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Education reform, addressing overcrowded jails and increased funding for substance abuse programs are all expected to be hot topics during the 2013 state Legislative session, the Legislature's leaders said today.
Senate President Jeff Kessler and House Speaker Rick Thompson were the keynote speakers at the Charleston Area Alliance's annual Issues & Eggs breakfast at the Marriott, which drew a record crowd of 400.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has said education reform will be his top priority during the session, which begins later today. Tomblin is expected to lay out his plan in his State of the State speech this evening.
Kessler said, "I think you're going to see a real concerted effort to get education reform this session. We've not been getting our education bang for the buck."
"I look forward to the Governor's speech tonight," Thompson said. The Speaker drew laughter when he added, "The education audit cost $750,000 and he paid for it."
Although Thompson declined to list reforms he would like to see ("I have to see what the Governor proposes and try to help him get his proposal passed"), the Speaker did say he believes testing is essential. If a kid can't read they shouldn't be promoted to the next grade, he said.
Thompson said some people tell him the state should mandate particular education policies but also say school boards need more local control. Thompson said he favors local control.
Kessler said substance abuse is the reason behind jail overcrowding. He said child poverty is the root of many of our society's ills and if we can provide our children with a good start, "we can save a ton of money" on jails.
The state Senate will try to look at childhood poverty in a systematic manner, he promised.
Thompson said, "We've got to find a way to make substance abuse programs work." He said the Legislature has to find $20 million to $25 million for substance abuse programs this session, and he thinks it can be done without raising taxes.Contact writer George Hohmann at busin...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4836.