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Humphreys outlines plan to reform U.S. education

March 24, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Standing in the lobby of Berkeley Heights Elementary School, Democratic congressional candidate Jim Humphreys on Thursday unveiled an education platform that includes more spending on teachers, buildings and computers.

With its large budget surplus, the federal government can afford to subsidize higher education and build enough public schools to keep class sizes low, he said.

Humphreys, who served in the West Virginia Legislature from 1983 to 1994, is in a four-way fight for West Virginia's 2nd District U.S. House seat. It is now held by Rep. Bob Wise, a Democrat who is running for governor this year.

The other Democratic hopefuls for Wise's seat are Ken Hechler, Beth Taylor and Martha Yeager Walker.

Shelley Moore Capito is the only Republican candidate in the heavily Democratic district.

Humphreys' brief stop at Berkeley Heights was set up by Erica Epperson, the chairwoman of the Berkeley County Democrats' executive committee and the president of the local PTA.

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She watched as Humphreys stood behind a lectern and spoke to two newspaper reporters, plus a handful of his supporters.

Humphreys passed out copies of a slick brochure titled "Better Schools Now!" In it, numerous ideas for education are listed in four main categories.

In the area of school safety, he is proposing immediate expulsion of children who are disruptive or bring weapons onto school property; "tough love 'second chance schools'" for children who chronically misbehave; and emergency buttons students or teacher can hit if there's trouble.

"When I went to school, the worst you could expect was scraping your elbows on the playground," he said.

Humphreys said there should be no more than 16 students in each class from kindergarten to third grade, and 18 per class beyond that. To achieve this, he wants to hire 100,000 new teachers.

He also wants to set up a national construction fund similar to the one maintained by West Virginia's School Building Authority. According to Humphreys, there is a shortage of about 64,000 schools nationwide, a trend evident in the Eastern Panhandle.

"My preference is always for free public education, whether you're 18 or 88," Humphreys said, as he explained his idea to guarantee four years of government-funded college for anyone who wants it, or partial funding at the minimum.

With each leg of his spending plan, Humphreys reiterated the country's sizable surplus. Asked what the costs would be for his ideas, he said, "No one has gathered all of the data."

Some of the problems Humphreys described applied to Berkeley Heights, while others did not.

Principal Jim Holland said the school has been using three trailers for classrooms and he expects it to use an additional three next year, when full-day kindergarten begins.

With 630 students now, the school's class size averages about 20 to 25, he said. But that number may decrease in about two years, since fourth- and fifth-graders are expected to move to a new intermediate school.

Holland said there are now three or four IBM computers in each class, and about 25 Apples in the computer lab. Recently, the school district found a benefactor that is giving a few hundred extra computers, Holland said. All of the schools will share them. At least one computer for each grade is hooked up to the Internet, but the school hopes to increase that number, Holland said.

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