Editorial: School funding proposals target important issues

November 30, 2018 GMT

The West Virginia Board of Education will consider some proposed changes to the state’s School Aid funding formula for county schools next month, and in broad terms those proposals make sense in addressing the Mountain State’s educational needs.

The recommendations come from a board committee on school finance and funding. Among their chief goals are to make funding more equitable and to do a better job of meeting students’ needs, particularly in the environments that many students find themselves in currently.

The recommendations warrant serious consideration by the full board. A key point made by Tom Campbell, a board member and chairman of the committee on school finance and funding, is that spending more to help students succeed has to be balanced against the costs of not doing so. “We’ve got to look at the long-term costs to the state and the cost of children who are not successful,” he said. “For every child who drops out, there’s a tremendous long-term cost to the state.”

Among the recommendations, according to a report by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, are these:

n Raising pay and increasing the number of positions for teachers and school service personnel to better serve student needs, being sure to consider the increased costs of educating students in sparsely populated counties and students from low-income households.

n More funding to provide adequate maintenance for school facilities, a problem in many counties. Relying on the state’s School Building Authority, which has a limited amount of money it doles out each year to meet requests for much more funding, leaves many county school systems short.

n Addressing issues with recruiting and retaining teachers to counter the high costs and disruption of classroom learning through increased reliance on substitute teachers.

n Changes in benefit rules so that teachers will be less likely to use sick days that they don’t really need to use.

n Increasing reimbursement for teachers to buy classroom supplies and educational materials.

n Allowing for more “response personnel,” such as mental health counselors, guidance counselors, school nurses and psychologists. The intent here is to address issues for children who come from homes where they receive little emotional or financial support, frequently because their parents are addicted to drugs. We’re all aware of how the opioid crisis has placed thousands of children in the state in precarious positions.

n More funding for career technical education and for alternative education options. There’s been a growing recognition that many jobs of the future do not require a four-year degree, and boosting the career options will not only help many students but also improve the state’s work force - a key component for attracting new businesses and helping existing businesses to grow.

As you may have noted, the proposals clearly envision more spending on education than otherwise would take place. To help balance that, however, is the fact that the student enrollment has declined substantially, and that means the state would spend about $30 million less next year under the existing School Aid formula.

While cost certainly is a factor, it shouldn’t be the only consideration in doing what’s right by the state’s students. The committee’s recommendations target many of the issues holding back many of the state’s students, and overcoming those obstacles to success should be a high priority.