Omnibus education bill a poor choice

The Education Reform Bill [Senate Bill 451] is a perfect example of an omnibus piece of legislation full of miscellaneous provisions. However, higher teacher pay and better benefits are the real education issues that West Virginia legislators need to address.

SB 451 provides a 5 percent pay raise for teachers and school service support personnel. Now the source of funding for increased teacher pay needs to be clearly defined, and a Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA) investment plan needs to be securely established.

Other issues about teacher employment and academic policy should be decided by the WV Board of Education or local school boards and educators at the county level.

Gov. Justice and the West Virginia Board of Education have both pointed out clauses in SB 451 that are potentially harmful because they could lead to endlessly expensive law suits.

For example, the Non-severability Clause states that if any part of the Education Reform Bill is struck down, then other parts of the bill will revert back to current language.

The Governor and State School Board agree that public charter schools are not workable within the limited current budget. Both Gov. Justice and the WVBOE do not endorse the establishment of Education Savings Accounts to be funded by the state to pay educational expenses for “qualified” students. These are just a few of the complicated recommendations in SB 451.

The best way to solve any problem is to analyze the parts of that problem and deal with them in logical order. If we are not satisfied with public education in West Virginia, we need to look at basic issues first. Attracting and retaining qualified teachers is the most important single duty of a responsible public school system, and that is where the money should be spent.

Last fall, Gov. Jim Justice said, “We all believe in education, investing in education is putting our money where our mouth is.”

He pledged to increase teacher pay by 5 percent and to put $100 million toward the PEIA. It is time to invest in the future by supporting teachers and their students.