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2021 legislation on education in W.Va.

The West Virginia Legislature has been crafting many measures that have to do with the future of schools and the children who attend them. The most noticeable trends are:

1. Punitive action against public school teachers,

2. Increased funding for private and home schooling,

3. More focus on vocational training and workforce development,

4. Greater support for mental and physical health, and

5. Sensational political agendas having to do with sex and violence.

Punitive action against teacher strikes drives the passage of the anti-strike bill (SB 11), and the bill that makes it illegal for teachers to use payroll deductions to pay union dues to West Virginia Education Association (HB 2009).

I wonder if the Legislature has the legal power to intrude on the rights of teachers to decide how to spend their paychecks. Gov. Justice may need to veto HB 2009 this week to avoid expensive legal battles.

All aggressive efforts to move funding from public education to private and home schooling may provide other ways to undercut funding for highly qualified teachers. The problem with these measures is that they reduce the amount of supervision over the ways tax dollars will be spent and rules that establish educational standards. HB 2013 would give $4,600 to students who were enrolled in public schools for 45 days and decide to move to private or home schooling. Tax deductions and “Hope” scholarships for private education offer more ways to encourage parents to move their children out of public schools. Alternative teacher certification may be necessary if a teacher shortage develops, but it is not the path to excellence in teaching.

More focus on vocational training and workforce development may become an important part of any plan that helps young adults stay drug free and find jobs that can support a family. Jumpstart Savings Accounts (HB 2001) will help students save money for training in the trades. They may also use this money to buy tools and equipment for an apprenticeship or certification in a trade.

Greater support for school-based mental and physical health personnel is money well spent. HB 2345 would require that every school have a school nurse, however, there may not be funding for a full-time nurse in all schools. Nevertheless, efforts to ensure that every school offers health care options for students in need could be coordinated with public health services. Mental health is now called behavioral health, and behavioral problems in school may be signs problems in families or communities. We cannot afford not to give them more professional attention (see HB 2746).

Political agendas having to do with transgender participation in sports and gun-toting teachers are sensational, but they have no place in state laws until reasonable social norms are established at the national level. Provincial laws will only serve to provide expensive legal test cases.

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