The State of Public Education in West Virginia

An Analysis of Spending and Results at Both a State and County Level

Ensuring that every child receives a world-class education is one of the most important responsibilities for a society. A strong system of public education opens multiple doors and is essential to attract investment and create jobs.

The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has undertaken a close examination of the outcomes of West Virginia’s public education system. In examining these outcomes, the Chamber looked at reputable and oft-cited sources such as the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), U.S. News & World Report’s Best High Schools Annual Rankings, SAT & ACT results, and West Virginia’s own Balanced Scorecard. Except for the Balanced Scorecard, all resources collect the same data from across the United States to ensure that comparisons are made using the same process. The results from all of these sources indicate that major reform of West Virginia’s public education system is urgently needed.



The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce has long been an advocate for education excellence in West Virginia. West Virginia Chamber member companies are located in every county of West Virginia and employ over one-half the state’s workforce. Chamber members know that a well-educated and well-trained workforce is vital in order for businesses to locate, expand, and grow jobs here in the Mountain State.

In 2018, West Virginia teachers and school service personnel staged a thirteen-day work stoppage. The reasons cited for the strike were salary and health insurance costs. In an agreement to resolve the 2018 work stoppage, Governor Jim Justice and the Legislature provided all public employees with an average five percent (5%) pay raise. Further, public employee health insurance premiums were “frozen” at existing levels for 18 months, and a task force was created to examine the insurance program and make recommendations for its future operation.

In 2019, comprehensive education reform legislation (Senate Bill 451) was introduced during the Legislative Session. SB 451 contained many needed and well-regarded education reforms, including additional pay raises for teachers and school service personnel. However, two specific components of SB 451 quickly became lightning rods for criticism by the teachers’ unions: authorization of a limited number of public charter schools in West Virginia, and the creation of Education Savings Accounts (“ESAs”) for special needs students. Citing these provisions of SB 451, teachers and service personnel again walked off the job across the state for two days in February 2019. The West Virginia House of Delegates ultimately killed SB 451. Governor Justice has called a Special Session of the West Virginia Legislature to convene later this year to again address various issues relating to “education betterment”.

The West Virginia Chamber supports significant and comprehensive reforms to improve our state’s K-12 performance. Quite simply, academic outcomes of West Virginia students are far too low compared to other states, despite substantial (and increasing) tax dollars being spent to support West Virginia’s public education system.

A paper published by the West Virginia Chamber in 2018 examined the topics of teacher pay and benefits across West Virginia. This subsequent paper reviews student academic achievement results in West Virginia’s public schools, as well as the spending of tax dollars to support our public school system in all 55 counties.

After compiling and reviewing numerous independent, non-partisan sources and citing various nationally recognized surveys, it is abundantly clear that student academic performance in West Virginia is among the lowest in the nation. For example, West Virginia students taking the national SAT exam in 2018 (typically our state’s highest performing college-bound students) ranked 49th in the nation. US News and World Report’s ranking of all U.S. public high schools in 2019 revealed that West Virginia’s best rated school (George Washington High School) ranked #585 among all public high schools in the country. Further, only 38% of graduates from that top-rated high school were rated as being “college ready”.

The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) has developed its own measurement of school performance called the “Balanced Scorecard”. Public schools in West Virginia are graded and ranked based on student performance within each school. In 2017-18, the WVDE’s Balanced Scorecard showed that almost 88% of West Virginia’s high schools do NOT meet the state’s own benchmark for standards in mathematics, while 90% of our high schools do not meet, or only partially meet, the state’s benchmark for English Language Arts.

The National Assessment for Educational Progress (“NAEP”) assesses student performance bi-annually in the subjects of math and reading for 4th Grade and 8th Grade students. In the most recent NAEP results for 2017, only 23.9 percent of West Virginia’s 8th Grade students were “proficient” at mathematics, and only 27.8 percent of 8th grade students were “proficient” at reading. Stated differently, almost three-quarters of West Virginia’s 8th Graders are NOT proficient in mathematics (76%) and reading (72%).

By any objective standard or measure, the educational results for West Virginia’s students are among the lowest in the nation. For West Virginia’s parents, students, employers, educators, and taxpayers, this is a frightening situation, especially when considering that West Virginia spends relatively generous sums for its education system on a “per pupil” and “per capita” basis, compared to other states which spend less tax money yet obtain higher academic results.

Public K-12 education spending is the largest single category in West Virginia’s General Revenue budget, accounting for over 43 percent of the state’s $4.625 billion budget in FY 2020. When state and county dollars are combined, West Virginia spent over $3.1 billion on public K-12 education in 2018.

While West Virginia’s public K-12 schools have seen a steady increase in spending over the past decade, student enrollment numbers have declined. West Virginia’s public schools saw a total enrollment of 270,613 students in 2018, which was down over 11,000 students from an enrollment of 281,908 in 2009. Twenty-one (21) counties now have student enrollment of less than 2,500 students, with two (2) of those counties now having less than 1,000 students.

A 2019 survey of West Virginia Chamber member companies indicated that nearly half (48%) of the Chamber members surveyed considered the outcomes of West Virginia’s public education system as being either “poor” or “very poor”. Only seventeen percent (17%) of Chamber members surveyed rated the state’s educational performance as “good” or “excellent”.

Yet despite these lackluster performance evaluations, this same survey also showed that Chamber members view education taxes and spending as an “investment” in our children’s future. A majority of Chamber members surveyed indicated that they would support an additional five percent (5%) pay raise for teachers and school service personnel. Fifty-one percent (51%) of Chamber members stated that West Virginia spends an appropriate amount on public education, but that such funds should be better managed. Another forty-one percent (41%) would support additional spending on public education if those dollars led to better student results.

It is our hope that this paper will provide useful background information to state leaders and stakeholders who must address these challenges in order that West Virginia’s children can obtain a world class education.

A key component of the Chamber's latest paper on public education in West Virginia is the section containing summaries of all fifty-five county boards of education. To learn more about the county education summaries and see the statistics for your county, please click the link below: