UPDATE 4/10/13 @ 2:25 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's attempt to improve West Virginia public schools is becoming law.
The governor signed his wide-ranging education measure Wednesday. The Capitol ceremony attracted lawmakers from both parties as well as other supporters.
The new law offers counties more leeway for setting school calendars and hiring educators. It offers to help teachers in critical need areas with student loans. Nationally certified teachers will be paid to renew that prized status.
Other provisions aid Tomblin's goals for third-grade reading and college and career readiness.
Lawmakers amended the measure to require personnel cuts at the state Department of Education. The legislation takes effect June 20.
A coalition of employers and business groups including the state Chamber of Commerce championed the bill. It also reflects concessions to teachers and school workers.
Those moves are among several in legislation passed 95-2 Friday by the House of Delegates.
The vote sends Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin his agenda's biggest item.
The Senate unanimously approved the bill Monday. It also amended the measure to address concerns raised by teacher and school worker groups.
"I commend the members of the legislature for voting to raise student achievement with passage of S.B. 359. I'm confident this landmark legislation, along with my executive orders and coordination with the State Board of Education, will provide meaningful reforms ensuring our students receive the best education possible," Gov. Tomblin said.
Tomblin and lawmakers have focused on public schools after an audit contrasted hefty taxpayer spending with poor student achievement. The governor is planning executive orders and has enlisted the state school board to seek additional education changes.
But before Friday's vote, several House Republicans argued the bill falls short and could have done more.
However, Tomblin believes the bill accomplishes his five main goals for education reform, including:
-All children will read at grade level by the end of the 3rd grade.
-High school graduates will be ready to enter the workforce upon graduation or make a seamless transition into college or vocational school.
-All students will be taught by great teachers.
-Students will learn in a variety of ways.
-and public education will be delivered locally, not by Charleston.
“The West Virginia Board of Education is excited that we have reached this historic moment, West Virginia Board of Education President Wade Linger said. "We applaud the leadership of the governor, lawmakers, teacher organizations, local superintendents, the business community and countless others who have taken this journey with us and shown their unwavering support. This is a great day for our state, our economic future and, most importantly, for our students.”
Friday's bill is just the second to clear the entire Legislature this session.
"I appreciate the collaborative effort between our legislators, especially Senate President Jeff Kessler and House Speaker Rick Thompson, AFT-WV and WVEA, business and labor leaders, education advocates, and many parents. We've spent months crafting this historic legislation. I believe our kids will be better prepared for future opportunities because of this bill."
The House committee made no amendments to the bill on Tuesday.
The bill emerged from the Senate on Monday after a number of last-minute changes were put in place to appease teachers' groups.
The bill will no longer allow the non-profit Teach for America program to send teachers into the state's classrooms. It amends hiring practices, but seniority will still be taken into account.
Tomblin had initially proposed freeing up 12 non-instructional days in the school calendar to use as classroom time. The amended bill keeps six of those 12 days.
The bill could be voted on by the full House as soon as Friday.
Senators amended and then unanimously passed the bill Monday. Attempts to change the bill had postponed a scheduled vote Friday.
The amendment adds new criteria for teacher hiring. It gives extra weight to recommendations from principals and faculty senates.
The changes also reduce from 12 to six the days Tomblin proposed freeing in the school calendar to ensure 180 days of instruction.
Out of the bill is Tomblin's invitation to Teach for America. Lawmakers will instead study alternative ways to certify teachers.
Senate passage followed talks with House lawmakers and groups representing teachers. Those organizations pushed for Monday's changes to Tomblin's proposed rewriting of hiring and transfer policies.
More negotiations are expected as the two teachers unions try to get the bill more to their liking before a final vote in the state senate.
Union groups aren't happy with the provisions that would get rid of current teacher hiring practices. They are also concerned about changes in the school calendar.
Several senators voted against the bill during voice votes in committees.
The full senate meets Monday morning at 11 a.m.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin drafted his public education reform bill based on the results of a yearlong audit. Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) introduced it Monday.
Kessler says the overall cost to taxpayers hasn't been crunched yet, but the benefits to students would be nonnegotiable.
"We may need more teachers and aides, but I think it's critical that we put forth the personnel necessary to make sure our kids learn," Kessler said. "And if that means a financial commitment, then I believe the state is prepared to do that."
Some of the bill's goals include pouring more resources into Headstart and early education programs, along with expanding Vo-Tech programs in middle and high schools.
It also aims to make it easier for teachers to receive training in their own counties.
"What concerns me most is that we see very little in this bill that actually has any support for student achievement based on evidence," AFT president-elect Christine Campbell said.
AFT educators say they support the work on Headstart and Vo-Tech, but that teachers should still be held to a higher standard.
"We're trying to raise student achievement, but the provisions in this bill are actually trying to lower the requirements for teachers to get into an education program," Campbell said.
But parents like Seth White say they're just glad the system is getting the attention it deserves.
"I'm just hoping to get some resolve out of it," White said. "That's what I'd like to see."
The bill would also expand the school calendar to a full 180 days everywhere in the state.