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mh 9jan02 - school funding

January 10, 2002

New school plan may finally appease judge



The House Education Chairman of the West Virginia Legislature says he'd like to add 1,200 employees to local counties' public schools in the next 10 years. Del. Jerry Mezzatesta just wants to put more help in the classroom, but his bill could be one key to solving a lawsuit against the state that's been dragging on for 27 years.

The suit was filed by a mother who believed her child wasn't getting an adequate education. In response, Ohio County Judge Arthur Recht ordered the state to come up with a way to fund schools that didn't depend so heavily on local property taxes.

The case has been reopened several times, with the original attorney claiming that the state never fully implemented a master plan mandated by the judge.

The bill introduced by Mezzatesta, D-Hampshire, would put another 500 teachers and 700 service workers in the schools by 2012 by tapping $3.6 million in state property tax cash.

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Because these personnel will be paid for through state funds rather than through local revenues, the state would be free to provide personnel to needy counties which don't have the means to hire them on their own.

Mezzatesta said the program would greatly benefit those rural counties which have small student populations and few resources, but which are nevertheless required to provide the same services as other, more affluent counties do.

Will the measure pass? It might, because lawmakers are keying on education this year as the way to bring new jobs and develop a stronger economy. One lawmaker is even floating a plan for a statewide education levy.

But before we give this plan our final endorsement, we need to know how it will be funded. If it's through cuts, what else will suffer? If it's by raising revenue, is it a source the state can count on, or something less certain, like casino gambling? Adding school personnel is a good idea, but figuring out how to pay for it will be the tough part.

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