BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. — Members of the House of Delegates return to the state capitol Monday to discuss education reform, but Republican candidate for governor Woody Thrasher said a special session shouldn’t have been needed.
“The governor could have resolved this two years ago, and we could’ve avoided the whole mess that we’re in,” Thrasher said this week on WAJR’s “Talk of the Town.” “There was great opportunities two sessions ago to have this whole issue put to bed, and I think this screams of the lack of leadership on his part that it has just snowballed in terms of discord sort of activity on the part of everybody.”
Instead, the state is plagued with all sides bringing emotions and passion into a heated debate.
“We could’ve had a good, logically, thoughtful solution to this problem,” Thrasher said. “What do you do now? I think you do what you always do when you have a problem with multi sides to it. You put all those affected parties into a room, you close the door, you work out a reasonable compromise among all parties, and you walk out of that room on a united front.”
Of course, Thrasher said, there are situations where sides just can’t agree and can’t compromise.
“If that’s the case, unfortunately you fall to what the majority rules, and I think you make your best argument for why the solution you pick is reasonable,” he said. “It’s simple problem solving, but the key to it is this — engaging all affected parties, and that just isn’t being done.”
As Thrasher campaigns for the 2020 election in hopes to defeat Jim Justice in the race for governor, he has spent time considering how he would handle this situation if in office.
“One thing that is included that I recognize is controversial is the charter school aspect of it,” he said. “I’ve got to be honest, I fundamentally believe that’s a reasonable thing to do.”
While West Virginia ranks 18th in the country when it comes to education spending, the state ranks 49th in performance.
“I just think it’s fundamentally unfair for a child to have no option relative to education depending upon where that kids zip code is,” he said. “In business, competition breeds better results, so I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having charter schools. I think it makes sense, and 44 other states have agreed with that.”
When it comes to Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), however, Thrasher has not yet taken a position.
“This is a much more controversial issue because I think there’s a reasonable argument that takes funds away from local school boards,” he said. “So while I understand there is a reasonable aspect to being able to have those savings accounts, I think you also have to be very careful that you don’t take much-needed monies from school boards relatives to do that.”
With education reform, or “betterment,” having now been a lead topic in multiple consecutive sessions, Thrasher said it’s vital to address in order to have a strong, educated workforce in the Mountain State.
“Our biggest single problem is loss of population. We’ve lost 11,000 people this year. They tend to be young, educated people that don’t necessarily want to leave but do because of a lack of opportunity,” Thrasher said.
It’s now been 20 years in a row that West Virginia has lost population.
“We’ve lost more population than anybody else in America,” he said. “That’s what we need to reverse. We do it by creating opportunities, and I think we do that through diversification of our economy.”
Thrasher has already seen what can happen when the right opportunities are provided to today’s students.
This summer, The Thrasher Group has 50 student interns working for the company.
“These are homegrown, West Virginia kids going to various engineering schools across the state,” Thrasher said. “The average age of our workforce is 35. That’s because we have, through our internship program, developed all kinds of West Virginia talent.
“When they’re given the opportunity to stay in the state of West Virginia, the vast majority desire to do so,” he added. “Not everybody, but the vast majority do, so it shows me that if you can create job opportunities, kids will stay and people will move in.”
The House is set to take up the issue when it returns to special session at 8:30 a.m. Monday.