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Defying judge won't resolve school issue

August 13, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Last week West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise issued a defiant promise to go to jail before he'd agree to any order by Ohio County Circuit Judge Arthur Recht to hire more teachers. If Wise wants to avoid a constitutional crisis, he'll make the case that what's being spent now is improving education.

The state's problems with Judge Recht stem from a 1975 lawsuit filed by attorney Dan Hedges on behalf of a mother who argued that her children were not getting a proper education.

The case has gone back and forth, with Recht reversing his own order in 2001, saying that the state could focus on student achievement rather than on the amount of money it was spending. Recht's order suggested that instead of spending more money all over the state, the legislature could put the cash where it was needed to boost student performance.

Last fall, state School Superintendent David Stewart testified before Recht, saying that the formula for distributing state aid to schools should be changed. His proposed changes would have added $39 million in new money.

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But when the legislature voted to add only $2.5 million a year and none of that until 2005, Recht called the action "a sham" and has since indicated he might order schools to hire more teachers.

In many states, finding $39 million would not be a problem. Not so in West Virginia, which is already using money from the national tobacco settlement for non-health-related items. Hedges suggests using the cash from a bond issue proposed for economic development grants for schools instead.

Funding ongoing expenses with bond money is always a bad idea, because it requires repeated issues and growing amounts for debt service to keep the cash coming.

In July we strongly suggested that the state make the case that what is being spent now has brought educational improvements. That would require presenting test scores and other hard evidence that schools are improving. Defying the judge will only promote a constitutional crisis with money spent on litigation instead of in the classroom.

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