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Hoppy Kercheval: WV Chamber report should also be part of the education improvement debate (WV MetroNews)


The results of the West Virginia Department of Education’s town hall meetings and on-line surveys to gather opinions about reforms and improvements have been well documented. The participants generally agreed that they want higher salaries for teachers and service workers, additional support services for students, more flexibility for high-performing schools and pay supplements to fill math teaching positions.

The report also found overwhelming opposition to charter schools and education savings accounts. The teacher unions and others opposed to school choice have used those findings to conclude that “the people have spoken” on those two controversial issues, therefore the ideas should be abandoned.

The data are valuable in helping to determine policies for improved education outcomes, but the information should not be considered the final word.

Last week, the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce released its report on the state of public education. Those findings should also be part of the fact-based dialog.

First, the Chamber documented the research-based statistics that show how poorly we are doing. West Virginia student SAT test scores rank 49th in the nation. The NAEP (National Assessment for Educational Progress) scores for 8th grade math rank 46th, and we’re 45th in 8th grade reading.

The State Department of Education’s Balanced Scorecard shows 88 percent of the state’s high schools “do not meet” the state standard for math and 90 percent of high schools “do not meet” or only “partially meet” the state reading standard.

“Quite simply, academic outcomes of West Virginia students are far too low compared to other states, despite substantial (and increasing) tax dollars spent to support West Virginia’s public education system,” wrote report author Brian Dayton.

The Chamber polled its members and the results show, as you might expect, business leaders understand that spending on public education is a good investment.

Fifty-six percent support a five percent raise for teachers and service workers. Three-quarters back a $2,000 bonus for hard-to-fill math teaching positions. Eighty-six percent support a $250 tax credit for teachers to cover school supply costs. Two-thirds say voters should be able to raise their regular levy rate, with the additional money staying in the county.

However, the Chamber members do not believe in simply throwing money at the problem. Half say West Virginia already spends an appropriate amount on public education, but the funds should be better managed. Forty-one percent would support additional spending if that led to better student results.

Sixty percent of the Chamber members who answered the survey believe the state should authorize charter schools. Over half (56 percent) back education savings accounts for special needs students.

These and other findings in the report are relevant to the debate. The Chamber has significant skin in the game. These business owners and operators are taxpayers (and tax collectors). The Chamber has member companies in every corner of the state and those businesses “employ over one-half of the state’s workforce.”

They know the value of excellence.

The Chamber report is not the final word on education reform, just as the education forums were not, but it should be part of the framework upon which we retool a public education system that desperately needs better outcomes.

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