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West Virginia must embrace president's new education bill

May 28, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

In the next 12 years, the West Virginia school system will get millions of dollars in new federal funding to improve student achievement. But because the feds will sanction those schools that fail in that task, the state must spend the extra cash wisely.

The president's 2001 bill has been called the most extensive reform of the public education system in many years. The 1,200 page document will undoubtedly generate twice that many regulations, which can be a challenge to interpret.

For example, Maryland education officials who wanted to phase out the Maryland Student Performance Assessment Program weren't sure they could do it, because as the deadline for doing so approached, the new rules hadn't been written yet.

That said, there is something to be said for saying that the system is going to change, and it's going to change now. We were disheartened to read the comments from Judy Hale, president of the West Virginia Federation of Teachers, who said that expecting children to meet new benchmarks 10 years from now is "an impossibility."

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Probably so, if you start out believing that the effort is doomed to fail. Many people also thought welfare reform would fail and while there's still a long way to go, it's been more successful than most imagined it could be, because someone set a deadline for action.

If West Virginia schools make progress, the bill provides additional cash for helping students from low-income families and for training and retaining talented teachers.

On the other hand, schools that don't produce could fund themselves paying the cost of transporting students out of district to better-performing institutions.

As the state master plan recently released by the West Virginia Roundtable notes, the state needs more and better educated citizens to break out of its long-term economic slump. We urge state officials to look at the president's bill as an opportunity to succeed instead of a burden to bear.

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