Report: Opioid crisis, poverty harm West Virginia students
By JOHN RABY Associated Press
May 07, 2019 11:42 AM
FILE – In this Feb. 18, 2019 file photo Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, speaks with other senators to work out a parliamentary question during debate in the state Senate chamber to amend an amended version of Senate Bill 451 passed by the House of Delegates at the West Virginia state Capitol in Charleston, W.Va. Carmichael has said he wants comprehensive education changes to improve classroom performances. The state Department of Education released a report Tuesday, May 7, 2019, that questioned the formation of charter schools and scoffed at education savings accounts as a way for parents to pay for students to attend them.
Charleston Gazette-Mail via AP, file
West Virginia policymakers must address the consequences of poverty and the opioid crisis on students, according to a report released Tuesday ahead of the Legislature’s special session on education.
The report released by the state Department of Education also questioned the formation of charter schools and scoffed at education savings accounts. The report stressed the need for policymakers to be flexible.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice called the special session after the GOP-led Legislature failed to agree on teacher pay raises and other education measures during the regular session that ended in March.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael has said he wants comprehensive education changes to improve classroom performances.
But West Virginia has one of the nation’s highest poverty rates at 19.1 percent and by far the highest rate of drug overdose deaths. The report found that “public schools carry much of the burden created by abuse, neglect and household dysfunction.”
The report suggests increasing personnel and mental health services and providing more support for students and faculty “impacted by the toxic stress they encounter daily. Progress moving forward will be significantly impeded if this crisis is not aggressively addressed.”
The report was based on surveys of students and educators along with comments from public forums held across the state. The report said 20,000 residents contributed.
Teachers went on a two-day strike in February over an education bill that tied their pay raise to the formation of the state’s first charter schools and called for education savings accounts that would help parents pay for schools. The proposal eventually failed but union leaders and some lawmakers are concerned the special session will bring another chance to push through the measures that caused the strike.
The report said education savings accounts should not be implemented due to public concerns over the potential concentration of benefits to higher-income families. If lawmakers authorize the creation of charter schools, they should be limited in number and overseen by the state and local boards of education. For-profit charter schools should be prohibited, it said.
Other top priorities cited in the report are the teacher pay raises; paying teachers extra to strengthen their skills in curriculum shortage areas, starting with math; and giving high-performing schools flexibility with certain rules and policies.
“As the great equalizer, education can break the chains of poverty, underachievement and stagnation,” the report said. “A thriving education system is the best chance our students have to overcome the high-stakes obstacles facing our state, and our state has to produce a robust economy.”