By Jharad Lester, Contributor
The West Virginia state Senate passed an education bill comprising a Republican amendment that would forbid any teacher strike from occurring on June 4, 2019, during a special legislative session. The recent education bill, known as the Student Success Act, passed in an 18-15 vote. The education reform bill includes language that would legalize charter schools and raise annual compensation for public school employees in the state of West Virginia.
Specifications regarding teacher strikes were included in the education reform bill, as well. The Senate Republicans amended the bill to include such language to focus on reducing teacher strikes, and that would allow withholding pay for school employees while on strike. In essence, the amendment deems public school employee strikes unlawful, while such formulated legislation will allow an unlimited number of charter schools to locate in the state. After the bill passed, Senate President Carmichael stated the following:
“Today, the state Senate took a historic step toward improving the education performance of students in West Virginia. We took a historic step in improving the pay scale of our West Virginia teachers. We took a historic step in providing flexibility, choice, and options for our parents.”
Did the Senate take such an essential step, however? The answer is no. Quite frankly, at first glance, I was astounded that our Senate, especially Senate President Mitch Carmichael, would dare to ban a constitutional right granted to us by our country’s Founding Fathers. Then, after thinking more further, I realized that Mitch Carmichael and the Republican caucus aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed. Not only that, but I still find myself in disbelief that the Senate passed this so-called education reform legislation, even though 88% of West Virginians oppose such a bill.
First off, the notion that “charter schools are the answer to public education’s problems” is utter idiocy. In truth, implicating such a fallacy undermines the significant amounts of evidence that suggests there are prominent problems within the charter sector. The state of Pennsylvania has witnessed a first-hand experience as to why charter schools shouldn’t be used as an opt-out for the state’s underperformance in public education.
In 2012, for example, a report released by Rep. James Roebuck stated, “The average School Performance Profile for traditional public schools was 77.1.” However, for charter schools, the average score was 66.4. In 2013, a study found that students who attend a charter school in Pennsylvania, on average, cover 29 fewer days of reading material, and 50 fewer days of math material than public schools entail (National Charter School Study conducted by Stanford CREDO).
In addition to tremendous under-performance, the charter school sector is replete with an absence of transparency and liability. Although the public funds charter schools, it’s too often that they act as if they’re private entities. For instance, in the state of Pennsylvania, the largest charter school operator once had to fight a right-to-know request in the court system so that he didn’t have to reveal his salary funded by the public; such data is publicly available for all traditional public schools. Along with that, in the state of California, charter school operators have argued in the courts that they wish not to be treated as a public institution because they are indeed a private entity.
Lastly, but certainly not least, charter school tuition rates cause a huge financial barrier for struggling school districts. In 2014, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the cost of charter tuition payments totaled a staggering $53 million.
Moreover, there is sufficient evidence suggesting that charter schools, most notably cyber charter schools, are enrolling an increasing amount of students who beforehand were home-schooled, which causes an increase in costs for public school districts, according to an NCSPE Brief on cyber and home-school charter schools.
I find it insulting that our state legislature is failing to abide by what they swore to do: Govern in favor of the populace they are obligated to represent. Members of the Republican caucus, mainly Senator Mitch Carmichael, should be ashamed of themselves.
Rather than blaming the state’s educational failures on the public, it’s time each one of them begins to recognize their faults. The state’s teachers aren’t failing; the state’s students aren’t failing; the state’s public education isn’t failing. However, the West Virginia state government is failing; failing the people, failing the country, and now, failing to abide by the United States Constitution.