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Lively discussion about education

This week Randolph County Democratic Women’s Club hosted a stimulating discussion on the omnibus education legislation passed by the West Virginia Legislature last July when some 35-40 concerned citizens gathered at Kump Education Center on Thursday.

Cody Thompson, Randolph County delegate to the West Virginia House, explained the process for implementing new public charter schools in West Virginia according to House Bill 206. Three pilot West Virginia charter schools will begin in 2023. If they are satisfactory, three more will be added every three years thereafter.

Local school boards will decide if new charter schools are appropriate in each county. Delegate Thompson is concerned that out-of-state funding may be used to elect school board members who will support for-profit charter schools.

Randolph County Board of Education Vice President Rachel Anger said school boards will be expected to judge the effectiveness of schools according to the success of Local School Improvement Counsels in meeting their goals. She believes this approach may lead to a punitive system punishing poor rural schools that are already disadvantaged.

After HB 206 passed quickly in the summer session, leaders of the teachers’ unions threatened to challenge the bill. Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association (WVEA), said he considers HB 206 unconstitutional because it will take funding away from public education. He added that the schools in West Virginia are successful in ways that do not get media attention. West Virginia early childhood education and our percentage of National Board Certified Teachers are both outstanding.

Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT-WV), pointed out that the pay raise teachers were given under HB 206 is an average 10% increase, not a percentage of the pay teachers were earning. It does not fulfill the promise made by legislators, and some of the changes actually take away benefits that teachers had before HB 206.

An audience member asked if “Innovation Zones” grants could be reinstated to provide opportunities for school reform. Lee said “Innovation Zone” federal grants still exist for school improvement.

Another person asked if the efforts to discredit West Virginia public education was part a for-profit charter school push. Mr. Thompson said that the national charter school movement has not been effective, and West Virginia is the last target for those who want tax dollars.

Two questions probed the problem of not passing a school levy in Randolph County, where 24% of people are over 65 and fear higher property taxes. The panel agreed changing the sources of school funding is an issue the Legislature should address. Finally, a parent said the number of days children are out of school for teacher work days causes an interruption in learning and a burden on working parents.