Building a brighter future takes time

Thank you to the Education Committee in the West Virginia House of Delegates for taking time to fully consider each part of Senate Bill 451.

The Omnibus Education Reform Bill put many proposals on the table; some may improve schools in West Virginia, but others threaten the very existence of public education in our rural state.

We need for all West Virginia legislators to give more attention to the serious issues of fiscal and academic accountability.

With all the excitement about parents taking money out of the public system and a possible teacher strike, we have lost sight of basic questions of accountability. How will the state pay for a teacher pay raise and how will PEIA teacher retirement be funded? How will the Department of Education measure student progress in public, private, or charter schools? How will we know if teachers or home schoolers are qualified to teach students and receive public funds? When all is said and done, how can we prove that all students in West Virginia are getting a good basic education and that the changes that are being proposed now have made a difference in time?

The House Education Committee made the following important changes to SB 451:

1. The House Education Bill struck down the severability clause which could have held all parts of the bill in limbo if any part of SB 451 was challenged in court.

2. It took out penalties for teacher strikes and annual requirements to rejoin professional organizations.

3. It limited the total number of charter schools in West Virginia and said that they should be started in “low performing” elementary schools.

4. It removed the individual education savings accounts that would take funds from public education.The House Bill took out many of the distractions from the Senate Bill.

However, SB 451 is full of little details that could and should be decided by local boards of education. It does not guarantee that teacher pay raises and retirement will be fully funded. Furthermore, it does not address the need for statewide academic accountability. The state must set educational standards and all local schools, teachers, and students must meet those standards if public funds are spent effectively.