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Manchin, Morrisey offer insight into education reform failure

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two high-profile public figures in West Virginia are weighing in on the brief statewide public teachers strike and the circumstances that led up to the two-day work stoppage.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin told MetroNews Thursday the collapse of the omnibus education reform proposal was a direct result of a failure by state lawmakers to lay the groundwork for establishing broad support for fundamental change to West Virginia’s long-established approach to public education.

US Senator Joe Manchin

“You don’t do major reform, policy changes, for the whole education system in a 60-day session without public hearings.  There should have been a whole year of going out and speaking to the public,” he said. “You can’t have these changes, unless you’re willing to put the time into it, community by community, over a year, and then go back into the session with all your facts.  And, this is what you’ve heard in your input.  And, I think it would have been a different bill then what you saw them trying to push down to the people of West Virginia.  And, the teachers were right in pushing back because it was not fair to the kids.”

Manchin recalled his skepticism, during his time as the state’s governor, about charter schools or education savings accounts being established in West Virginia, saying there were practical concerns about diverting limited resources to such schools, as well as questions about fundamental fairness.

“We had counties that were underperforming.  I just couldn’t pick one school and say ‘I’ll make a charter here and leave everybody else behind, and I’m going to take the money away from the regular public school system and use it for something different.’  I just thought that all the schools in that county should be lifted up, so the kids would have an equal opportunity and, basically, a good education.  And, there’s a way to do that.  I support people that have home-schooling.  I support private schools.  I just don’t support them with public dollars,” said Manchin.

On Thursday’s edition of MetroNews “Talkline,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey answered critics who say he should have taken action against teachers who, as a matter of established law, were conducting an illegal strike, for the second time in two years, during this week’s walkout.

WV Attorney General Patrick Morrisey

“The reality is that this is something that required local school boards to take action or state school boards to take action.  That’s what happens in a lot of areas of law but we’re limited, in many respects, in terms of what we can do, directly,” he said. “Historically, we’ve been involved more as an amicus (impartial adviser to a court) because we don’t typically represent the local school authorities.  The state school board we represent, directly but, as you know, there’s client-attorney relationships, and so, that’s up to the state school board.”

Morrisey said he supports the concept of charters schools, which he said may not be appropriate in some of the more rural areas of the state but could be useful in more-heavily populated urban settings, where a significant number of parents likely would welcome alternatives to their local school systems.  He also said a legislative debate about charter schools does not justify an extreme reaction, such as a statewide strike, by those who oppose certain types of reforms that may require the use of public funds.

Public school teachers in West Virginia returned to school Thursday, after lawmakers in the state House declared the education reform initiative to be effectively dead for the remainder of the current legislative session, although West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee later said there was still a slight chance the bill could be revived.

A bill currently under consideration includes a pay raise for teachers, but has no language pertaining either to charter schools or to education savings accounts.