LINDA MARTIN:EDUCATION CORRPUTION - Challenge To Bob Wise

(12/27/2002)

LIKE me, are you wondering just how much more corruption at the state Department of Education and Board of Education will be exposed by the investigative reporting by Eric Eyre and Scott Finn? The exposure began with Hank Marockie, who resigned in disgrace after his misuse of state education dollars for his personal gain. There was also the matter of private funds supplied to him by the Education Alliance. Then, we had J.D. Morris, president of the state board, indicted for stealing $172,000 from the Clay County Bank, with much of the money coming from student loan funds. Now, we have G.A. McClung and his pal, “Pork Chop” and friends. It would be a comedy, if it weren’t so tragic that these characters were making decisions for our children and wasting the money budgeted for their education. Gov. Wise has a golden opportunity to change this situation by naming people to the Board of Education who are open to making decisions based on sound research and without personal political agendas. The governor has said he is interested in naming people who are open to the idea of small schools. High time, since mountains of research show that small schools are better for children. Small schools have higher achievement levels, fewer dropouts, less violence, higher graduation rates, better staff communication and are preferred by students and teachers. The positive aspects of small schools — flexibility, knowing students and where they stand academically, curriculum for a unified learning experience — cannot be matched in large schools, where students are numbers, not individuals, and where the absence of community is strongly felt. The other important news is that small schools are cheaper to build, operate and maintain. A new study, Dollars and Sense, shows the diseconomies of scale of large versus small schools. The Gates Foundation has found it so valuable that it is paying for enough copies for every state and local school board member. Gov. Wise has also stated that he wants to name Sen. Lloyd Jackson to the state board. Of course, Wise cannot name him until after the end of the year when he “officially” is no longer a state senator, nor is in charge of the Senate Education Committee. Jackson has worked for the last decade to close schools across the state and has used his power to ensure that his agenda is the one that is followed. His latest win was to have the state pick up the tab for the one high school in his community in Lincoln County. The state will spend $31 million dollars to build that one school that won’t serve either end of the county. That breaks down to spending $37,000 per student. The national average is $16,500. Big win, wouldn’t you say? Wise has an opportunity to end graft and personal political agendas. He has the opportunity to name people with the vision to recognize that our children are living in the 21st century. The people who have been making educational decisions are stuck in the industrial age and believe that the answer is to build large industrial buildings where children are warehoused. We need to have students and their communities working together to maintain small schools that are connected to each other. We need to use education dollars to bring technology that will enable every child to have the global information they need to personally succeed while revitalizing communities across West Virginia. Let’s hope Wise is wise enough to do so. Martin is director of Challenge West Virginia.


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