West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register on a proposal to reduce the number of instructional days in West Virginia public schools:
Spending less time teaching students at a time when multiple indicators suggest we in the Mountain State are not educating many of them adequately does not make sense. Yet on Wednesday (Oct. 31), state Board of Education President David Perry suggested that legislators should consider reducing the number of required instructional days in West Virginia public schools.
Also (last) week, results of a new round of National Assessment of Educational Progress testing were released. The news was not good.
Since the last NAEP testing in 2017, fourth-grade students’ math scores in West Virginia have decreased by an average of 5 points on a 500-point scale. The average score this year was 231, compared to 236 in 2017.
Ours was among just three states recording statistically significant drops in scoring. The others were Vermont and Wyoming — each scoring 2 points lower than in 2017.
State education officials have argued for years — with some justification — that NAEP scores are not an accurate reflection of school achievement in West Virginia. But, coming on top of dismal results in the state’s own evaluations, the NAEP results ought to be another nail in the coffin of how we do things in public schools.
During a “Listening Tour” public meeting at John Marshall High School in Glen Dale on Wednesday, Perry noted that many teachers complain complying with state and federal mandates leaves them with inadequate time for professional development. Virginia addressed that by reducing the number of days teachers are required to be instructing students.
“I have long been an advocate in the Legislature for reducing the number of instructional days to 175 (from the current 180) and using those extra five days for continuing education,” Perry commented.
But is the problem that teachers are spending too much time educating children — or too much on bureaucratic red tape? Perhaps policymakers ought to consider reducing the burden of keeping the folks in Charleston and Washington happy. In addition to giving teachers more time to, well, teach, that could give school systems more resources to educate.
As we have suggested several times in the past, the problem is not that Mountain State children are less educable than their peers elsewhere. It is not that West Virginia teachers are less capable and conscientious. It is that the system is broken in many ways.
Merely giving teachers more time to cope with that system is not the answer to improving our schools.
The Register-Herald on how tourism impacts the economy in West Virginia:
If there is any doubt about the potential that tourism packs as foundational footing for a new house of prosperity in the wild and wonderful woods all around us, then consider in isolation the economic impact — as studied by the Bureau of Business & Economic Research (BBER) at West Virginia University — of The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve during a jamboree year: $76 million.
True, those national scouting get-togethers at the 14,000-acre property in Glen Jean come only once every four years, but even in off years the impact weighs in at a cool $28 million.
Clearly, there is tourism gold to be minded in our outdoor recreational wonderland. We would be economically negligent if we did not insist that our civic, political, business and industry leaders work collaboratively and cooperatively in support of such plans.
Thankfully, we see and appreciate evidence that there is movement afoot.
Outdoor recreation in West Virginia generates two percent of the state’s Gross Domestic Product and supports 22,200 jobs. Three percent of the workforce is now employed in the outdoor recreational sector, earning over $688 million in salaries.
This is a growth industry with a high ceiling.
As pointed out in BBER’s annual five-year forecast for the state’s economy, many of the state’s tourist options are lower-margin activities well known in these parts — camping and hiking, for instance — with limited impact on the broader economy. Destination-style attractions — such as agro-tourism, “foodie” and microbrew tours — would increase spending activity but could also leverage activities like whitewater rafting on the Gauley and the New rivers and other types of adventure tourism already available.
We recognize, too, that county governments and developmental boards are turning abandoned rail lines into trails for walking, biking and even horseback riding. Upgrading local and state parks needs to be on the agenda as well. While they may not seem like much in and of themselves, together each piece provides outdoor recreational infrastructure that makes the visit to southern West Virginia more attractive. Options for tourists of all ages and abilities are a good thing — especially if there are a number of them in close proximity.
And, yes, by all means, we support legislation in both houses of Congress that would redesignate the New River Gorge National River as a national park and preserve. That alone would boost tourist numbers — one study suggests a 20 percent spike in visits — and give our great outdoors here wider exposure. Lest we forget, millions of people live within a five-hour drive of our backyard beauty.
But we would caution one and all, while jumping on board the tourism train, that we not lay all of our proverbial chips on one bet. As a not-so-subtle reminder this week, Murray Energy became the eighth coal company in a year to file for bankruptcy protection. With utilities switching to cheap natural gas and renewable sources like solar and wind power, coal company executives see the handwriting on the wall.
The company store’s once uncontested influence on our state’s economy and on our way of life will continue to erode. And the lesson is clear: We can never again be so dependent on one industry — not even tourism. We must continue to diversify our regional portfolio, through industry, through education, through agriculture and through health care.
Right now, tourism is in play, and we need to make the most of it. But it cannot be the only card we hold.
We need a full house.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail on West Virginia’s first foster care ombudsman:
West Virginia has taken another step in the right direction in confronting a massive foster care problem by appointing Pamela M. Woodman-Kaehler as the state’s first foster care ombudsman.
The Department of Health and Human Resources position, a required part of a new law that will transfer aspects of foster care to a private management agency, is designed to advocate for the rights of both foster children and foster parents, and also participate in investigations regarding complaints of inaction or questionable actions by a managed care service or other social service agencies.
Creating and maintaining a statewide system for compiling and analyzing data from complaints and being aware of changes in foster care regulation on the local, state and federal level also are requirements of the position.
Why some of these things weren’t being done already might be part of the problem, but hopefully getting on track will lead toward positive and effective solutions.
As the Gazette-Mail has reported, about 7,000 children are in state custody at the moment, while only 1,300 foster-certified homes and roughly 2,500 certified kinship-care homes exist in West Virginia. Abuse, neglect and a near-generational disappearance of parents (either through death or incarceration) fueled by the drug crisis have all contributed to this unfortunate state of affairs. Throw in a system where caseworkers are stretched too thin and likely not paid a quarter of what they’re worth for everything they see and do, coupled with the bureaucracy of the entire process, and it becomes easy to see why the system would break down.
Bringing in privatized entities in the form of managed care was a controversial decision, although the Legislature seemed to think it was, at the very least, some form of action that might make a difference.
The ombudsman position carries hefty responsibilities, but they are crucial to understanding and working through the problems the state foster care system faces.
As for Woodman-Kaehler herself, the Harrison County Child Protective Services worker earned a solid endorsement form Sam Hickman, executive director of the West Virginia chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, who said he thinks highly of her work.
We wish her luck in this new, vital role. A lot of children are counting on this overhaul of the state’s foster care system. West Virginia can’t afford to let them down.