CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — Next week, legislators will convene in Charleston for a special session, which may or may not include education reform.
Already, state Senate Democrats have a list of education proposals that resulted from a statewide listening tour.
Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, said those meetings brought forth the need for having mental health professionals in every school.
“Democratic senators held town hall meetings and invited our Republican colleagues in, along with parents, teachers, administrators, and just the public in general, students, and listened to what their issues were. We didn’t tell them what we thought the issues were, we listened to what they thought,” Romano said Tuesday on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town.”
One of the most repeated topics, Romano said, was taking care of students who have been affected not only by the opioid crisis but also, poverty, alcoholism, abuse, and other trauma.
“Those kids come to school with a lot of baggage, and they disrupt the educational system for everybody,” he said. “So we’ve got to take care of those kids, and we’ve done absolutely nothing over the last five years to address that growing problem, but yet we want to look at the school system and say, ‘Look it’s broken,’ but we don’t give them any tools to fix what they’re facing.”
With one in ten babies born addicted in the Mountain State, Romano said that gives those children an immediate disadvantage when it comes to their education.
“If you’re drug addicted, think what a horrible anchor that is around your neck to achieve when you’re brain’s forming, your nervous system’s forming, all those vital systems are forming,” he said. “People in America were always lucky to be able to be born not malnurioushed. Our mothers had plenty of food, they had pre-natal care. The drug epidemic has certainly turned that on its head.”
Additionally, the state’s foster care system has grown exponentially — “from about 4,000 kids in foster care to 10,000 almost overnight with no increased funding,” Romano said.
“Foster care is really broken down, and those kids are going to school,” he said. “We’ve really got to start taking care of this problem before those babies are born, making sure those mothers are drug free so those babies can grow and mature properly and not have an anchor around their necks growing up.”
To tackle such difficult problems, the Democrats in the state legislature are proposing that control is returned to the local Boards of Education.
“We think that’s a great idea. Sure, there’s got to be some oversight to make sure Boards of Education are actually educating children, but we have great boards of education around this state who do a great job,” Romano said.
Romano said that Monongalia County, which has two of the top schools in the country, is a perfect example.
“Because they do such a good job of managing their students and helping them learn,” he said. “Those are the kind of things that we want to promote in this package, local control, let your board of education do what they want to do because every county is different. Every county needs a little bit different of an approach to the strategies that they employ to educate their kids. This does that.”
His only concern — why this couldn’t be done during the regular session.
“Here we are coming back in for yet another special session,” Romano said. “I think since I’ve been in office, we’ve had a special session every single year. This is something that could’ve been done during the regular session, and we could be addressing important issues like roads, keeping the permanent value from oil and gas, and addressing the opioid crisis. But here we are back at education.”
Not that Romano doesn’t see the value in education and how needed funding is for public education in West Virginia.
“We need to pay our teachers what they deserve. We need to have school supplies in the classroom so they don’t have to come out of their pocket to buy paper, pens, and crayons,” he said. “We need to have somebody in there, a mental health professional, that can help our children get over the traumas that they suffer at home and be able to learn and not disrupt the rest of the classes. It is a funding issue. In my experience in government, it’s always a funding issue.”
But yet, Romano said, the leadership that’s been in control of the state legislature for the last five years will easily “give money away to big, out of state corporations.
“Last year we gave a 100 million to 150 million tax break to the coal industry, which are all big, out of state companies without the promise of one new mining job or one new coal mine,” he said. “Now how does that make sense when we can’t patch our roads or pay our teachers?”