Public schools do need bold changes
The West Virginia Constitution requires the state to provide, "by general law, for a thorough and efficient system of free schools." West Virginia public schools are neither.
The audit of the state's public school system by Public Works, an independent consultant, found that education is over-regulated and top-heavy.
"We have encountered no other state that insulated its education system so much from gubernatorial - or voter - control," the audit said.
The time has come to change that. The state Board of Education, having asserted its proper role with respect to a recalcitrant state Department of Education, has signaled its willingness to do so.
But Senate Education Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, while supportive, called the board's 134-page response to the audit "vague."
"If you sit there and tell me that you feel strongly about some of these things, then that's a fairly weak reply to me," Plymale told state board president Wade Linger at a public hearing this week.
"I see a lot of recommendations, but I don't see specifics. If you're saying you need to change code, it's very vague. We're not offended by strong statements that say, 'This is the direction we think you should go'."
Linger and other board members do not have a staff of lawyers to draft legislation. But legislators do.
Board members and legislative staff members should be able to prepare legislation that rids the state code of laws that micromanage classrooms, bury teachers with paperwork and requirements, and prevent the state from paying more to attract teachers who are harder to find.
Teachers need laws that allow them to produce an orderly environment so students can learn. Students deserve at least 180 days of actual instruction. Educational leaders need more freedom to try new approaches, greater ability to root out poor teachers, and on and on and on.
And the state does need to find efficiencies to put more money into improving outcomes. The audit suggest possible ways to do that.
West Virginians are eighth in the percentage of personal income spent on public education. As the audit pointed out, the state is 47th in education performance.
That is not acceptable.
State leaders should work now to prepare a solid set of proposed legislation so they can hit the ground running in the new year.
Changes should be possible for the new school year in August.