Guest Commentary: Updates from the 85th WV Legislature - West Virginia Daily News
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Guest Commentary: Updates from the 85th WV Legislature

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Week two of the W.Va. legislative session has been epic, to say the least, with much legislation introduced and moving through the process. I will speak only to the education bills and provide explanations.

On education: I am on the legislative education committee and am quite proud of the following initiatives, which mostly strive for student-first educational reforms such as enhances academic standards as well as parent/student encouraging personal choice.

• The Hope Scholarship: H.B. 2013. If passed, the Hope Scholarship will bring fairness, equality, and options into the educational process by giving eligible parents and students $4,600 of their taxes back. They may then use this money for the education vehicle of their personal choosing. I support this initiative.

• The Alternative Path to Teacher Certification: H.B. 2582. If passed it will fast-track filling positions in a public school system suffering from teacher shortages. It provides another non-traditional way of facilitating filling those vacancies by giving educated individuals, who already hold degrees, experience, and credentialing the opportunity to get a W.Va. Teaching License. Applicants would have to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited higher ed institution, submit to a criminal background check, complete pedagogical training or courses aligned with nationally recognized standards, or be approved by the state board. I support this initiative.

• The Teacher’s In-Field Master Degree Bill: S.B. 15. If passed, this bill would ensure that a teacher holding a master’s degree in “underwater basket weaving,” for example, is not getting paid an increased salary for teaching U.S. History or College Algebra. It rewards teachers for continuing their education in the field that they teach and ensures that they are paid for sharing that wisdom and experience with their students. Current teachers are grandfathered in and their pay will not be impacted. I support this initiative.

• Relating to Charter Schools: H.B. 2012. If passed, this bill sets the conditions for non-traditional education specialists to establish up to 10 charter schools within the state in order to enhance educational diversity and opportunities. It simply adds options, freedom, and more education diversity to our great state. Under this law, charter schools would be part of the state’s public education system and would be given greater latitude to try new approaches to K-12 education in exchange for the possibility of losing their right to operate if they fail. I support this initiative.

The Opposition: Surprisingly, I have not received many calls and emails from people identifying themselves as “teachers” who are absolutely opposed to these bills. Not surprisingly, Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia stated the following: “In less than a week, the 2021 legislative session has been nothing but a barrage of attacks against public education and those who work in it.” With misleading, agenda-driven comments such as these, it is no wonder why some people are passionately opposed to school choice initiatives. Even some state-level politicians who I will not name are opposed to most, if not all, of these bills. But why?

The Facts: According to a recent Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy, 82% of taxpayers said that the COVID crises “…made them more likely to consider alternative education options.” But there are other reasons for this significant paradigm shift in thinking: cost and results. Currently, public education in W.Va. costs between $11,334 and $12,600 annually per pupil. This equates to a total of $2.021 billion (on the low side) and absorbs 45.5% of the state’s general revenue fund annually. In other words, W.Va. has the 6th highest education expense per taxpayer in the nation.

So what are we getting for this cost? The 2019 NAEP score ratings placed W.Va. number 49th in the nation in fourth-grade math and number 48th in eighth-grade math. The same scorecard shows us to be 48th in reading at the fourth grade level and 48th in reading at the eighth-grade level. These numbers do not represent anomalies, they represent dangerous trends! Of our graduates who decide to go to college, 33% of them are required to enroll in remedial courses before they can begin their entry-level college courses thereby wasting much time and money. Why?

According to official National ACT data, the average ACT score for West Virginia students is a 20 out of 36 despite evidence that alleges that many school districts focus their strategies predominately upon practicing to pass the ACT. Less than half of our students meet the average benchmarks for reading, math, and science. West Virginia public school students have the lowest SAT scores in the Nation!

Why? It cannot be due to the lack of funding and being an educator myself, I can ensure you that current academic standards are not the fault of most of our teachers. Instead, I place the blame at the feet of the D.C. cookie-cutter approach to education and the department of ed which seemingly has become beholden to that approach in exchange for federal funding that is tied to graduation rates, not academic achievement and future preparedness.

Even college professors across the state are beginning to question why they are increasingly receiving students who lack the basic fundamentals of writing and math, fundamentals that should have been acquired before their ninth grade year of high school. And yes, there do exist some substandard teachers who simply do not care. Human resource departments are hard-pressed to fire them. Why?

With regard to funding, people like Fred Albert and other opponents to these bills continue telling us that public schools will lose funding and be devastated due to the Hope Scholarship, among other bills aimed at student-first education reforms. This is patently false.

Again, objective minded people who do their own research will quickly discover that only $4,600 will follow a student into a private school environment and that the public school district will still keep the remaining balance of the money they would otherwise get if the student were still in a public school setting, or nearly $8,000. In other words, instead of “losing funding,” the public school district will keep $8,000 to educate a student they no longer have in their classrooms!

The Hope Scholarship alone should be a welcome change by the teacher’s union bosses who have been arguing for smaller classroom sizes and more funding to educate fewer students!

When it comes to education the status quo is not working to the standards that our students deserve. This legislation is designed to give parents and students more freedom of choice, set the conditions for other education specialists to expand educational diversity through the establishment of charter schools, and pave the way for more freedoms for our public school educators within their own classrooms.

And why not? Facts are stubborn things and we have nowhere else to go but up. Like I said in my last article, change is not always a bad thing so why not try something new?

Todd Longanacre
Delegate, 42nd District, WV House

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