EDITORIALS

Education bill is hardly an E for Effort

Ahead of this year’s legislative session, pundits and politicians alike found themselves caught up in the hype surrounding the possibilities awaiting lawmakers as prepared to grapple with legislation that would finally lift West Virginia schoolchildren out of the academic basement.

So much for that.

The bill passed by both houses last week does very little to address school performance, and, much to its discredit, even less to address the dismal ratio of bureaucrats to students in West Virginia’s public school system.

To have found such legislation acceptable lawmakers and education leaders must be relatively satisfied with the level of performance — 49th in the nation, but tops in per pupil spending — of the state’s public school students, and equally satisfied that precious education dollars are best spent way up at the upper echelons of the school system. Indeed they must; how else to explain the offer of a $104,000 job to Donna Perduto, a former state Department of Education administrator and the very person the school system contracted to craft a response to the audit that described in detail what a substandard mess schools in West Virginia are?

To be sure, the bill did provide for full-day kindergarten. The teachers’ unions won’t argue with that. And it did add flexibility to the state school calendar, making it easier to make sure students get the 180 days of instruction that’s mandated for them.

But in a year when expectations were high that lawmakers might finally awaken to the grim reality of public school education in West Virginia and do something about it, the effort by Democrats to do more to coddle teachers’ unions than look for real ways to improve performance and outcomes is disappointing indeed.

Next time, we won’t get our hopes up so much.

 

Gun bill is no good

The Republican Mayor of Charleston, Danny Jones, was right to ask state lawmakers if they’d bothered to read the firearms purchasing bill they voted on this month that eliminates grandfathered clauses for municipalities that had drafted their own gun control measures and overturns Charleston’s own gun control ordinance.

They may not have. If they had, how could they have voted on a bill that allows a gun store to set up shop in residential neighborhoods? How could they have voted for a bill that would allow out-of-state groups to sue towns they think have violated any state gun laws at taxpayer expense, but not give municipalities the same provision?

The bill passed the House of Delegates by an overwhelmingly 94-4 vote and was accompanied by much rancor between Jones and Kanawha County Delegate Mark Hunt, who accused Jones of calling lawmakers idiots for taking up the measure.

For their part, advocates of the bill say its passage will ensure one standard statewide, that citizens would not be caught flat-footed for inadvertently violating an ordinance they weren’t aware of.

It’s an industry-friendly bill, to be sure, but a bane for citizens — pro-gun or pro-gun control —who’d be forced to pick up the tab anytime someone thinks there is a grievance against a jurisdiction.

No matter what one’s disposition towards gun legislation, this bill is a disgrace and the Senate should decline to approve it or else radically amend out some of its provisions. But given how egregious it is from top to bottom in what it seeks to effect, it’s our hope it just goes away quietly.

 

PRAISE&nays

PRAISE for Kevin Carden, Harpers Ferry Town Recorder since 2009, who led the fight to protect residents not only against discrimination based on ethnicity, age, gender, handicap or disability but also sexual orientation. Morgantown and Charleston already have similar ordinances. As Carden said in a Spirit column last week: “A change is under way in this great nation.”

 

NAY to the West Virginia Board of Education for adding more bureaucracy. Though the ink is barely dry on an audit criticizing the state’s education system as too top heavy, the board now has voted to add an executive post.

Donna Perduto, a former state Department of Education administrator, was contracted by the board in August to help draft its response to the audit. Now she’s earning $104,000 per year as a go-between for the board and the state ed department. What a sad signal that the state board has learned nothing from the audit.

 

PRAISE for Art Thomm of Martinsburg, a leader with the gun-rights group, the West Virginia Citizens Defense League, for quickly calling out gun lovers who threaten state legislators.

With tensions higher than ever among those who feel their Second Amendment rights are under attack, some citizens have crossed a line in recent weeks with bullying calls to state Sen. Herb Snyder. The Jefferson County Democrat, a longtime member of the NRA himself, says he’s forwarded threatening calls to Capitol Police for further investigation.

Meanwhile, Thomm has publically urged WVCDL members to advocate for the reforms they seek without any suggestion of violence. “We don’t work that way,” Thomm said. “That will do nothing to move forward anybody’s cause.”

 

PRAISE for Stephen Skinner, West Virginia’s first openly gay legislator who quietly made history earlier this month.

Skinner, a freshman Democrat from Shenandoah Junction and a seventh-generation Jefferson County resident, was recognized on the House floor March 5 along with members of Fairness West Virginia, the rights group he founded in 2008, as well as his partner of three years, Clarksburg native Jeffrey Gustafson.

As Skinner, 44, told a Charleston newspaper: “Attitudes are changing every day. We’re breaking the barrier.”

 

Gun fever baffling

Gun hysteria sweeping West Virginia’s Legislature in the wake of Connecticut’s grade school massacre is mystifying. We hope psychologists explain why the mass slaughter of first-graders stampeded many Americans to clamor for more gun-carrying. We can’t understand. It seems irrational.

At last count, 33 bills had been introduced at the Statehouse to increase pistol-packing and assault weapon ownership in the Mountain State.

By an overwhelming vote of 94 to 4, delegates passed House Bill 2760, which revokes local gun safety laws in Charleston and other cities. We hope this lunacy dies in the state Senate — but it may not, because death threats were made against a Senate committee chairman, Herb Snyder, warning that “if the bill doesn’t pass, you won’t go home from Charleston.”

Even nuttier is HB 2504, which declares that federal gun protections are “unenforceable” in West Virginia — and mandates state prison terms for FBI agents, U.S. attorneys, federal judges and others who try to enforce them.

Another ugly proposal is HB 2911, which would conceal the names of thousands of West Virginians who get permits to carry concealed weapons. If it passes, families won’t be able to learn whether neighbors have loaded pistols hidden in their pockets.

Government secrecy always is a bad idea, and it’s worse when such personal hazards are involved.

The last time this issue came up, a reasonable-sounding man called us to say he didn’t want his pistol permit revealed, because thieves would break into his house to steal his guns. Well, if he keeps pistols to shoot thieves, which draws thieves to steal the pistols, it’s “theater of the absurd.”

America has far worse gun slaughter than other advanced democracies. It’s bewildering that elected leaders won’t do anything to improve safety.

— Reprinted with permission from The Charleston Gazette, March 20

 

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