CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Nearly a year after state lawmakers passed a sweeping education reform package, West Virginia has moved to another uncertain phase for those reforms: implementation.
A number of the reforms agreed upon by lawmakers last year are already in effect, but some policies have yet to take effect, others are waiting on public comment, still others may be tweaked, whether on the level of education policy or laws.
"The education reform bill is just the beginning, our hard work today will mean more opportunities for our children," Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said Tuesday, to a room full of people from the state's education and business communities.
They gathered Tuesday at the Charleston Civic Center for an education summit sponsored by the West Virginia Education Alliance, a nonprofit group that advocates for changes in education policy.
Officials repeatedly returned to the idea of West Virginia's transition from legislation to implementation of education policy. The theme of the conference was "Excellence in Education, It's Everyone's Business," -- part of a push to get stakeholders from outside of the immediate realm of education involved.
Part of that included hearing from Mary Laura Bragg, the national director for policy and implementation for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Florida made a massive push for education reform in 1999, and has since made a slew of drastic changes to its education system that are largely considered a success.
There are some stark differences between Florida and West Virginia -- Florida has 2.7 million students while West Virginia has less than 280,000, and 56 percent of Florida's students are minorities, far more than the 8 percent in West Virginia -- but there are similarities too, including a similar percentage of children from low-income homes (57 percent in Florida, and nearly 52 percent here).
And Florida has the benefit of hindsight, since more than a decade has passed since officials there began working toward education reform -- so officials hope West Virginia could learn from their example.
In the time since its reforms were put in place, Florida has improved its scores in reading and math, and shortened the gaps between average students and their peers from low-income homes or racial minorities.
"The results have been pretty astounding," Bragg said.