By The Dominion Post
“It’s just really good to listen to people.”
That should be the first point of reference for the Legislature once it resumes its special session on public education reforms.
The remark above was one of the state superintendent of schools’ observations following the final forum on the state’s education system.
We were encouraged by the thousands of West Virginians who participated in the eight forums sponsored by the state Department of Education.
But whether it was a wise investment in time and money we cannot help but be skeptical. There’s a difference between hearing and listening.
It’s true more than 18,000 survey responses were generated by these forums and the legislators who attended them got an earful.
The data and an analysis of the roundtable discussions will be boiled down into a report to be presented to the Legislature by May 1.
Speculation, for now, is the special session will be called out of recess May 20. That’s when a two-day interim legislative session is due to start.
Democratic Party legislators have also been conducting their own “listening tour” since the special session was called March 10.
As for legislative Republicans, it’s apparent, at least in the Senate, positions have hardened around its omnibus education bill — SB 451.
Put simply, the 18 senators — a slight majority in the Senate — who never wavered in support of SB 451, are only listening to what they want to hear.
No one can be certain of the outcome of the resumption of the special session but we’re not encouraged by this inflexibility.
The special session also plans to tackle fixing a handful of unrelated bills the governor vetoed in March.
All this leads us to conclude this special session is going to get complicated, if not stalemated.
We urge the governor to prepare several bills on public education that segment some of the dozens of policy changes in SB 451 into more manageable bites.
Resuming action on a bill that rewards (bribes?) teachers, students, parents and administrators to take it or leave it is not going to work.
Perhaps the more than 30 items in SB 451 should not each have to stand on their own. But if they were packaged into a half-dozen or so bills it might ensure progress.
For instance, dedicating $25 million to our schools for more support personnel — counselors, nurses, psychologists, etc. — and more funds for school safety, both at local districts’ discretion, are invaluable. Why hold such initiatives as those hostage to other unpopular efforts in SB 451?
Listen up, because if our state’s legislators don’t, they are going to flunk this test.