CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Two meetings of the Senate Education Committee were abruptly canceled on Thursday, but teachers union officials indicated they were winning a hard-fought battle over revisions to the governor's massive education bill.
There were audible sighs in the packed committee room when Senate Education Chairman Bob Plymale announced the panel would not discuss the governor's education bill until next week.
It was the second time that afternoon the committee had postponed public discussion of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's 179-page measure.
After saying several times in the last two weeks that he would bring the bill up for a vote Thursday, Plymale said too much remained to be done.
"We are working on language. I do not feel comfortable bringing the language out to the committee without significant proofing," said Plymale, D-Wayne.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, and Judy Hale, head of the state chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, were very critical of some of the changes they thought would be in the revised bill given to the committee on Thursday.
However, after backroom finagling and bargaining, Hale thinks both sides are much closer to an agreement.
"I'm very optimistic that we are going to be able to come to an agreement. I'm very encouraged by the talks we've had today," Hale said.
Teacher unions have sharply criticized Senate Bill 359 since shortly after its introduction.
Union officials have worked behind the scene with the Tomblin administration and committee leadership this week to reach consensus on some provisions.
Plymale had planned to introduce a revised bill Thursday.
However, some serious sticking points remained, said Rob Alsop, Tomblin's chief of staff.
One involved a change in existing state law that would allow a program called Teach For America to place its volunteer teachers in West Virginia classrooms. Also at issue are revisions to state laws regulating teacher hiring procedures.
"We've discussed those but we haven't reached any agreement," Alsop said.
Tomblin told the Daily Mail Wednesday those topics were the two biggest hurdles remaining between opponents and advocates of the bill.
Teach For America is a national nonprofit organization that places recent college graduates into high-need schools. The WVEA's Lee has said the five-week training provided by the group does not qualify its participants to teach.
Teacher unions also adamantly oppose changes to hiring guidelines in state code. The governor's bill would give school administrators more flexibility and lessen the emphasis on seniority.