All around the county and state, students are returning to school for the start of the 2019-20 school year.

Over the summer, we saw our state legislature debate education reform, eventually passing the omnibus education bill that will, among other things, bring charter schools to the state.

The bill was championed by its supporters as a solution to the consistently low ranking our state education system has been given by any number of data aggregators, most often placing West Virginia around No. 44.

As hallways and classrooms fill around the county, it can be helpful to reassess what that means.

In Wyoming, the leading state in terms of high school graduation, the percentage of adults 25 or older who have completed high school or equivalent education is 93%. In West Virginia, it’s 86%, only 1% lower than the national average of 87%.

The 7% difference between our state and Wyoming is not insignificant, and we should all want to decrease that statistic by fostering a better educational environment for students who are at risk of dropping out. However, from a larger perspective, we can see that the margin between West Virginia and the state that leads the nation in high school graduates is not as wide as we might have expected.

We aren’t saying the public education system in West Virginia doesn’t need to improve — we should always strive to do better. But it would be good for those of us who live here to remember our classrooms don’t have dirt floors or textbooks chiseled from stone.

We aren’t the best state in the nation, but we aren’t the uneducated hicks some might think we are, either.

The area our state lacks the most in is not public education, but undergraduate and graduate education levels.

In West Virginia, only 20% of adults 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, while the national average is 31%. Whether or not the education reform passed by our legislature this summer will improve that number remains to be seen.

The legislature did pass a bill to cover the tuition of community colleges, which should make it easier than ever for our students to achieve a college education.

A conversation worth having is that of our state economy — when the percentage of college degree holders rises in our state, can we provide them with meaningful and well-paying jobs, or will they leave to pursue careers elsewhere?

The solution to so-called ‘brain drain’ is not only improving education, but diversification of our state’s economy to accommodate a more educated populace.

We have some work to do as a state, and it’s easy to get lost in political rhetoric. But as the bells ring and classes begin, we suggest students take a moment to realize how lucky they are to be in those seats.

Your teachers truly care and your education isn’t just important — your future depends on it.

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