Advertisement

West Virginia must revise school plans

November 21, 2002

This week a West Virginia judge took testimony in a school- funding lawsuit that's been pending since 1975 and was told that over the years, lawmakers have skimped on education to balance the budget. To avoid a constitutional crisis, state officials had better offer a strong plan to fix what ails the system.

The suit was filed 27 years ago on behalf of a Lincoln County woman who didn't feel her children were getting an adequate education. Seven years later, Judge Arthur Recht ruled the state wasn't living up to its constitutional duty to provide a "thorough and efficient" education for all students.

Judge Recht gave the legislature some wiggle room last year when he ruled that the state could focus on student achievement rather than the amount of money spent. But after the legislature provided only $2.5 million of a $43 million increase sought by state School Superintendent David Stewart, the judge reversed himself again, calling lawmakers' actions a "sham."

Advertisement

Now come the hearings, which may finally prompt what the judge has threatened in the past - the mandated hiring of additional teachers or a court-appointed official to oversee school spending.

To avoid those measures, the state must prove that what it spends now provides a good education to all the state's students. Based on the testimony heard so far, it will be a tough case to make.

Kern Alexander, a professor of education at the University of Illinois, told the court that a once-adequate school-funding formula had been hurt by lawmakers' budget-cutting.

Particularly harmful, Alexander said, is a cap on funding for counties that identify more than 20 percent of enrollees as special-education students, for whom schools get triple the amount of cash normally allocated. Nor does the formula take into account that it takes more to educate children from poor families, Alexander said.

Formulas can be rewritten, but finding new money will be harder in a state that was cash-strapped before the current recession began. Barring the layoff of 1,200 state employees - which one administrator has suggested to raise funds - the state must offer a plan to make better use of the resources it already has.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|