AUGUSTA — How may Hampshire County be affected by the Education Omnibus Bill recently passed by the West Virginia Legislature?
Hampshire County Education Association President Gayle Allen was invited to speak at the county Democratic Club meeting last week to discuss the impact of the bill.
She began with a little background, pointing out that “in 2018 we made history,” when the teachers shut down all the public schools in West Virginia for 9 days.
They had tried something similar in 1991, but hadn’t gotten everyone to join them. This time, even the state superintendent of schools sided with them, given how far they had fallen.
“We couldn’t even get people to come to meetings,” said Allen, and the response to the call to strike was “a very surprising thing.”
Discussing the education bill, Allen asked that educational measures be judged solely on “what’s best for kids.”
One good thing that happened with the bill is that passages in the Senate bill that would allow measures like firing teachers in response to work stoppages were dropped.
However, there is much that Allen finds disturbing — particularly the doors left open to charter schools.
She has no quarrel with private charter schools, but pointed out that state funding for public schools is based on enrollment. Every student that moves to a public charter schools drains money from a public school — and if charter schools are operated for profit, all the revenue received is not spent on students.
A lot of studies have been made of charter school quality, and as appealing as the concept of a charter school may sound, much research finds they do a poorer job of preparing students, her audience was told.
The bill allows the Mountaineer Challenge Academy — a charter school for at-risk students — to expand and create a new site for the school. The Mountain State Digital Literacy Project is to be set up at selected sites in 2020-2021 has charter school potential as well.
“We need to really watch this,” Allen advised.
The bill also opens the door to the establishment of charter schools in the state, though none can begin operation until the 2021-22 school year. The bill set a limit of 3 pilot public charter schools until July 1, 2023, after which 3 charter schools a year may be formed every 3 years.
Permission to form a charter school must come from a county’s board of education — “so watch who you put on the local board,” Allen advises.
Another problem with the bill is the minimal response to the need for more counselors to help with the serious issues many children must deal with — something teachers have been asking for.
All the legislature did was to change the workload of existing counselors from 75-percent direct counseling and 25-percent administrative to 80-percent direct counseling and 20-percent administrative, transferring 5-percent of a counsellor’s workload to someone else.
The bill also strikes equity from state law, Allen said. Since a 1982 decision by Judge Arthur Recht that found inequalities in funding were due to differences in levels of funding and violated the West Virginia constitution; teachers have been paid the same salaries across the state, with counties able to do only limited salary supplements.
The loss of equity would allow West Virginia counties to compete with one another for teachers, something common in surrounding states. Some school funding comes from property taxes, and wealthier counties receiving more in taxes are able to hire good teachers away from poorer ones.
Allen used Maryland as an example, where the disparity between wealthy Montgomery County and neighboring Prince George’s County means once new teachers in Prince George’s County get a little experience and succeed in what they are doing, they are hired away, offered larger salaries in Montgomery County’s better-funded school system.
This would add a new type of competition for teachers to what the state already faces from surrounding states. Surrounding states pay teachers a lot more, and there is a lot of attrition due to disparities in salaries, said Allen, who estimated she could earn close to $40,000 more, with her 35 years of experience, if she took a job out of state.
Teachers need help, said Allen, noting that more bills on education will be coming, and every single vote in the Senate on changes in the education was 18-16.
“We need help changing the Senate,” Allen said, encouraging her audience to pay attention to educational issues and pointing out that who they vote for, for the legislature as well as the school board, matters. o