While there may be a lot of excitement in Charleston surrounding two new proposals put forth by the West Virginia Board of Education, one of the proposals should certainly be raising eyebrows across The Mountain State.
Announced Dec. 11, a revised Policy 2510 aims to give students “as much flexibility as possible to personalize education for each student based on their goals.” We believe the policy revision could create a whole new set of problems.
According to the WVDE, “Under the new policy, all public high schools and middle schools must offer a full-time virtual school option for grades 6-12 either through the West Virginia Virtual School program at the state level or through a county virtual school offering.”
While we applaud the WVDE for allowing time for the public to comment on this proposal, which is standard and expected, the proposal raises some initial questions.
How will each county school system fund these new virtual school offeringss? If local funds are not available, is the state going to come up with the needed funds? How and where will the teachers who will run these virtual schools come from and how will they be certified? Also, will establishing a virtual school take away from funds that would normally go to pay classroom teachers?
Is there even a cost estimate to go along with establishing a virtual school in each of our 55 counties?
Then there comes the question of internet access, namely broadband, also known as high-speed internet.
The only way in which a virtual school can operate successfully is if that county has 100% broadband access in each school district. Online learning – the other name for virtual schooling – only works with a high-speed internet connection. It would extraordinarily unfair if fewer than 100 % of a school district’s students had access to this new era of online learning.
At present, in terms of internet connectivity, West Virginia ranks 46th in the nation, with only 75.2% of residents able to access broadband. That means 45 other states have higher internet connections than we do.
We understand that in this new era of school choice, having a virtual school becomes yet another choice for students to achieve their educational goals. However, at this present moment, this policy may be putting the cart before the horse.
And, while U.S. Senators Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito keep working to get broadband funded in West Virginia, change still comes rather slowly.
And while Congress keeps working on funding, broadband is still expensive even at discounted rates these new providers will be required to charge users in the provision of these broadband services.
In other words, just because Congress passed the funding, the end-user will still have to pay. And the reality is, the broadband shortage is in some of the state’s poorest counties that have some of the highest rates of poverty.
The public needs to get involved and write their House Delegate and State Senator to get involved.
We just hope a revised Policy 2510 and the establishment of 55 new virtual schools does not lead to a new era of “separate but equal.”