By Bob Weaver

West Virginia State Board of Education members heatedly engaged in a discussion last week over what many consider a radical idea to change America's public education system, according to a report in the Charleston Gazette.

The proposal would essentially eliminate the need for local boards of education.

Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, proposed a school system where most 17 and 18-year-olds bypass their final two years of high school and teachers earn up to $110,000 a year.

Local school boards would yield most control to third-party contracts, their schools and a powerful statewide Ministry of Education.

Challenge WV coordinator Thomas Ramey said "The 'ministry' concept has a bad ring, when we support community-based education in a constitutional democracy."

Ramey said taking education away "from parents, the electorate and communities by consolidating, centralizing and globalizing is a destructive path."

Tucker's organization NCEE, relies on government funds and private donations to research America's role in a globalized economy.

The plan is called "Tough Choices or Tough Times."

Tucker said American workers must be resigned to lower wages and longer work hours if they don't better compete with foreign nations.

Board members weren't impressed, according to Davin White, Gazette reporter.

"I believe he is asking for a very radical change in the way schools are run," said board member Lowell Johnson.

Johnson wanted to get an opinion from the state attorney general's office on whether the state school board was even allowed to make the changes Tucker proposed.

Board President Delores Cook and members Jenny Phillips and Burma Hatfield agreed with Johnson, saying the state board might not have the authority to consider less power for county school boards and other drastic changes.

Board members Priscilla Haden and Barbara Fish said they believed the board has the constitutional authority to take on the issue. Fish said she would like more information.

A vote on whether to seek an attorney general's opinion tied 4-4, but the issue was nullified because it did not appear on the board's agenda.

Johnson questioned the enthusiasm for Tucker's plan outside West Virginia, saying "I thought we were revolutionizing the schools through the 21st Century Partnership," referring to the state's plans for more rigorous coursework in schools.

State Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine has moved forward with globalizing education in the Mountain State as a way for students to compete with foreign markets.

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