History adds perspective to education

Now as we anticipate policy changes with the Trump administration in Washington and Republican control in the West Virginia Legislature, we need to remember changes that were made in the educational system 84 years ago when Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt and Governor H.G. Kump took office after 20 years of Republican control.

Most of the measures Governor Kump proposed to alleviate the disastrous financial situation in 1933 passed quickly through the Legislature, but opposition developed to the centralization of school administrations and lower salaries for some teachers.  Under the County Unit System, 413 school districts would be reduced to 55 county school systems.

The greatest opposition to the County Unit System came from citizens groups organized in larger cities such as Charleston, Clarksburg, Parkersburg, and Wheeling.  Kanawha County Delegate Julius DeGuyter feared this issue could reduce the popularity of Democratic candidates and cause them to lose future elections.  He said legislators who supported the bill would be called the “Wrecking Ball Crew of 1933” (Gatrell, p. 120).

Governor Kump was asked to address the Convention of the Young Democratic Clubs of WV in Clarksburg on May 13, 1933.  He began with a rousing call for party support of new programs:

This occasion marks the seventy-first day of the Democratic administration, and it is doubtful whether any similar period since the adoption of the constitution has been so full of meaning to our State.  They have been days of great hazard, of ceaseless effort, and of momentous decisions.  Once again we have lived those times “that try men’s souls,” and once again our party has risen to the highest stature to face and frustrate the fury of the forces that have threatened us. (H.G. Kump. (1937) State Papers and Public Addresses, p. 160.)

After summarizing the early accomplishments of his administration and defending the new taxes he was recommending, Kump outlined the legislation he was proposing at that time.  To reduce the cost of government, Kump had called for the reduction of all State employee salaries back to their 1920 pay level.  Although the pay cut was painful, it was the best option left under the property Tax Limitation Law.  Some teachers had not been paid in six months because funding for local school systems was totally depleted.  Under the new program, the State could aid local school systems with teacher pay.