During the 2019 legislative session when teachers, school administrators, parents, regular citizens and some Democratic legislators were advocating for more wrap-around social services funding for our schools to address the deep and troubling psychological effects of the opioid drug crisis on innocent school children, our elected representatives responded with $30 million in their education reform bill.

At first blush, that might seem like a goodly sum of money. But when you grab the calculator and do the math? There are 55 school districts in the state, and with all things being equal – they never are, of course – the state allocation comes down to about $550,000 per district. There will be more for some, less for others, based on student population. But it still seemed like a welcome sum, dollars that could help address the trauma that kids face in damaged and disruptive home environments – until you start counting the number of schools in the district. In Raleigh County alone there are 27. So, a half-million-dollar pie sliced into 27 pieces leaves about $20,000 per school – or about the expense of one part-time teacher aide for each.

It’s like throwing a day-old chicken bone to a hungry dog.

Like the establishment of charter schools that the Legislature enabled, this measly amount of money solves nothing and, as a result, nothing will change – except we are out $30 million of what will be state tax dollars spent without a strategy.

The legislative leadership on the Republican side of the room did not do its homework, its caucus did not do the research, they did not talk to experts that mattered and, at the end of the day, they wrote and passed an education reform bill that reformed absolutely nothing.

Why? They were not serious actors in this play. They were simply going through the motions while doing the bidding of moneyed interests located outside the state. They played to corporate interests keen on making money via charter schools that are neither better nor worse than what our public schools currently offer.

Most legislators were derelict in their duties to serve the public interest because they were kowtowing to private concerns.

For now, here we are. School doors will be opening again soon, and yet school districts will be faced with the same problems they had when classes let out last spring – because teachers and administrators will not have the necessary resources and tools to make a profound and lasting difference in students’ lives. Instead, left with a nickel more in funding, they will be wrestling with the same old problems with only the same old strategies. If this state is serious about education reform, and most signs say that it is not, then it will have to come up with the money. That is the bottom line that cannot be erased. Additionally, reform will take a plan and, in all likelihood, a different approach. That, in part, is the Legislature’s job – one that it is failing miserably.

There is much our legislators could have done, but did not. And there is much that they can still do – but we are not holding our breath.

We hope citizens remember all of this a year from now when most of these folks will be seeking re-election.

— The Register-Herald

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