W.Va. must focus on public schools

The West Virginia House of Representative Finance Committee is considering Senate Bill 451 (the Education Reform Bill).

This is the time for serious questions about how to fund the 5 percent teacher pay raise and to refinance PEIA benefits. Miscellaneous provisions for public charter school systems, parent vouchers, limits on teacher organizations, and increased class size must be studied further.

Public charter schools may work well in large cities where the population is concentrated in a small space and the budget is big enough to support more than one school within an area where public transportation is available.

That is not the case in rural West Virginia. In Randolph County we struggle to support small schools in Harman and Pickens, and we must provide a fleet of buses to bring students to the schools we have.

Every child counts in rural schools, and if parents take some children away, the whole community is affected.

The deregulation of schools opens a door to chaos. Even in great cities charter schools are replete with legal confusion and financial corruption.

In a Washington State Supreme Court decision a judge wrote that charters provide a “parallel public school system that provides a general education, serves all students, and uses public funds, but lacks local voter control or oversight.”

Dennis Smith, who served 11 years as an administrator for Ohio charter schools, said the charter school “experiment with deregulation has resulted in massive corruption, fraud and diminished learning opportunities for young people.”

We cannot improve public schools in West Virginia by dividing in half the meager amount of school funding we have and then starting to run two different parallel systems.

Parents have a right to take their children out of the public schools and teach them at home or send them to private schools. However, they do not necessarily have the right to take funds from the public system that provides education for all students — even those with financial disadvantages, ethnic differences, and learning disabilities.