The West Virginia legislature continues to waver in their supposed commitment to improving education in West Virginia.
To recap — the legislative special section was established and scheduled to address our education system after our leaders failed to find a compromise and pass the omnibus education bill, which drew criticism from the education community for establishing charter schools and education savings accounts while receiving shockingly little input from education professionals outside of advocates for charter schools.
As the special session approached, information from legislators seemed to indicate that they would not be focusing on education during the session, as was promised, but would instead use the time to address other bills that were not passed during the regular session for various reasons.
In response to this, state Democrats prepared their own education bills to present at the special session — bills that were shelved the very first day.
Then, Senate President Mitch Carmichael revealed that state Republicans were working on their own bill — one bill that would include several provisions and changes, including a pay raise for teachers and, once again, the highly contentious plan to establish charter schools in West Virginia.
Carmichael has shared his thoughts on education several times throughout this process. In a press conference Thursday, he cited statistics about the ranking of West Virginia in terms of education and framed their newest bill, the Student Success Act, as the answer to our education woes.
“How can anyone say these facts are OK? People are going to walk into the Capitol Saturday and try to defend the status quo? Our children, parents and teachers are as gifted and as talented and as blessed as any other in America, and we can fix this,” Carmichael said. “People want to criticize charter schools, and how the charter model would be a failure in West Virginia, but could it be worse than this?”
Therein lies the crux of the argument for charter schools. Could it be worse than this?
Yes — of course it could. A burning house is bad, but that is not an argument to throw gasoline on it.
And no — when teachers’ unions and other education professionals oppose a plan that includes charter schools, it does not mean they are “defending the status quo.”
We all agree there is a problem — the disagreement is on the solution. To paint the situation any other way is disingenuous.
Put simply, the Republicans in our state legislature are once again holding basic, common-sense steps hostage to establish charter schools. If they weren’t, the eight other bills brought to the floor by Democrats — bills that offered incremental changes that Republicans ostensibly support — would not have been shelved so quickly.
Our lawmakers’ actions have spoken much louder than any words offered at any press conference: they don’t want incremental, bipartisan change or compromise. They want all or nothing, and when their opposition voices concern that charter schools are for-profit organizations that will aggregate the more affluent and gifted students to their schools while leaving students in public schools behind, they accuse them of being against the more positive aspects of their bill, including the pay raise for teachers.
The success of charter schools and the students who attend them is not a coincidence, but proponents for the schools have the cause and effect exactly backward. Charter schools accept only students who perform well, therefore charter schools perform well.
Even setting aside the for-profit charter shell game, if these schools are really the solution to our problems, why would that be?
What do charter schools offer that our current schools do not, and why? Higher pay for teachers? Less restrictive curriculums? Wouldn’t it make more sense to improve our public schools to approximate this supposed success than to gut the whole system and sell it to private industry?
Our children are not a product or a poker chip, and they deserve leaders who treat them better than that.