(08/12/2006)
By Dianne Weaver

Linda Martin, coordinator for Challenge WV, says most West Virginians are aware of the powerful movement to de-construct community schools, consolidate and create long bus rides.

The state of West Virginia has spent 15 years experimenting with efforts to initiate educational policy and infrastructure changes through redistricting and has spent over $1,000,000,000.00 (that's correct-over one billion dollars) in their efforts at consolidation that has resulted in the closure of more than 300 schools.

More are on the block.

The promise: save money, efficiency, better curriculum and better results.

WV educators have ignored the research and politicians have bought the promise.

Martin maintains the consolidation movement will have a lasting detrimental impact beyond the social life of our rural communities, student academic performance and overall safety and stability of children.

The movement will likely de-construct citizen control of public education.

"Fewer citizens are aware that state bureaucrats (beyond the federal No Child Left Behind act) have been given more control of public education by the WV legislature, control has been taken away from local school boards and the citizens who elect them," she said.

"The future of public education is certainly at stake."

Martin says "Even fewer citizens are aware that the next attack on community schools is the blurring of county lines, which will certainly wrestle control from poor, under-populated rural counties," likely the elimination of local school boards, much like the elimination of county governments.

In many parts of the state, students are encouraged to go to a school of choice," which is often in another county, at times in another state.

It is a policy widely supported by many parents and has been the object of a political sell nationwide.

Challenge WV fellow Thomas Ramey and Lincoln County school board member says "Most supporters of choice have not taken the time to consider the end result."

Ramey says Lincoln County may be the first case where the shifting of a large number of students to a neighboring county could bankrupt their school system.

Martin contends WV citizens have been reaching a boiling point, trying to maintain community-based education, citing a bill overwhelmingly passed by the House of Delegates in the last session, but then stalled in the senate's education committee.

The bill called for a local vote before school consolidations could move ahead.

"It was a grass roots measure. The delegates got the message from their constituents," Martin said, "And those who shot it down had better pay attention."

"State educators wanting more control will be challenged," she concluded.


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