Improving state’s public education

West Virginia needs “gigantic education reform,”

Gov. Jim Justice proclaimed Wednesday. Few would argue with that. But precisely what does the governor have in mind?

He provided few details during his State of the State speech. What he did say seems like a good start, but no more than that.

Justice wants to grant public school teachers a 2 percent pay raise. He and legislators can do that, and it may help us retain some good teachers and attract others — though it must be noted, as the governor himself admitted, 2 percent is not much.

He wants to “eliminate any of the unnecessary education bureaucracies that we have.” A bill to that end will be introduced in the Legislature soon, Justice said. But what agencies, departments, offices, etc., does the governor have in mind? Apparently, we will have to wait until legislation is brought forth to find out.

Finally, Justice said he wants the state Department of Education to eliminate the “Smarter Balanced” standardized test. ACT tests should be used instead, he said Wednesday.

That certainly would be a desirable change.

Justice has said he believes more control over schools needs to be given to local education officials and not centralized in Charleston.

But his proposed budget for the coming year provides money for nearly the same number of employees at the state Department of Education.

The governor already has the tools in place to make some changes, if indirectly. His appointees to the state Board of Education soon will hold a majority on that nine-member panel, which sets policy for how schools in our state are run.

Justice’s appointees will give the board a solid majority of members with experience in the classroom and in school administration. That is something new — and it is a very good thing. As we have pointed out, it is much more likely such a board will be sympathetic to the plea of many educators to “just let us teach.”

Still, legislative action will be necessary to make many of the changes needed in our public school system. The sooner Justice makes it clear what he wants from lawmakers — and they have an opportunity to analyze and discuss it — the sooner real, decisive changes can be made.

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