When politicians rush a massive bill through a piece of the legislative process in a single day, concerned citizens have every right to ask, “Why the hurry?” Or, better: “What are you putting in that sausage?” Natural curiosity and a healthy dose of skepticism trained by a history of political shenanigans in this state would make anyone wonder what elected officials might be trying to hide.
Such is the suspicion now after Friday when the Senate Education Committee – including members Sen. Sue Cline (R-Wyoming) and Sen. Rollin Roberts (R-Raleigh) – passed along party lines a 140-page omnibus education bill that is masquerading as education reform.
We are on board when it comes to reforming education in West Virginia as there is much to fix. The work – if not completely ignored – has been long delayed. There are bushel baskets full of studies and statistics that clearly state West Virginia students lag national norms by more than a country mile. For the sake of brevity, we point to one, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress. On its last assessment test a few years ago, West Virginia 12th grade students scored last in both math and reading. Additionally, we know that economies suffer when educational attainment is not a primary concern. Take a moment and look around at the economic and social landscape of southern West Virginia and you will see the manifestation of educational neglect in the eyes of abject poverty.
So, yes, the state needs to build a stronger educational model for all. The process would begin with a rough outline of what changes were being proposed and how each piece of that worked with the other gears and levers, K through 12. We would expect public conversations and debate, we would expect to hear from experts and the educated.
And we would want and expect our representatives to bring that information back to their districts to have honest give-and-takes face-to-face with their constituents.
But that was not the process the Senate Education Committee adopted.
Far from it. Its members intent was simple: Get this passed before too many people discover what’s in the mix.
A day after receiving a draft copy of the voluminous bill to make sweeping changes to West Virginia’s education system, and the same day it received the final copy of the bill, the Education Committee passed the bill late Friday shortly before security guards locked the statehouse doors for the night.
Whom had the committee heard from? A charter schools advocate. Committee members also were given a separate presentation on the advantages of Education Savings Accounts (ESA).
And that’s it.
No teachers, no public school administrator, no public schools advocate, no education expert from, say, West Virginia University.
None of these.
This Republican-controlled committee heard what it wanted so as not to confuse its opinions with facts – damn any evidence to the contrary.
And that is exactly how to write bad policy with predetermined and long-lasting outcomes that will sink the state further into the morass of academic underachievement.
This bill is a nod to those who have the means to send their kids to the charter school on the other side of the county or the other side of town, people who have extra dollars at the end of the month to invest in and get a tax break from ESAs, a way to escape the messy imprint of diversity and multi-cultural influences.
This is a bill that would siphon off taxpayer dollars from public schools to stuff private pockets like, say, a religious school.
Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, in an interview with The Charleston Gazette-Mail, summed it up this way: “ ... the bill is simply a conglomeration of all of the efforts they’ve made in the past to create charter schools and ESAs that are going to do nothing but defund the public school system.”
While the bill has some workable ideas, the bulk of it is simply bad education policy tied to a 5 percent pay raise for teachers, a bill that in truth is meant to punish public school teachers, seat poor families and school districts at the back of the room, send public dollars to private schools and legalize charter schools.
And those are just the highlights.
We would hope that legislators either kill this bill or work it into true education reform.
There is a way forward but it begins with an honest attempt to address all circumstances – not just those of the chosen few.
— The Register-Herald