Preparing School Reform in W.Va.

West Virginia Department of Education officials have begun to “embrace” a consultant’s recommendations for public school reform, state legislators have been told. But more needs to be learned about which of the many suggestions are to be implemented and what timeline is involved.

Dozens of recommendations were contained in the consultant’s report, written after an “audit” of every aspect of public education in the Mountain State. To date, the education department has not issued a formal response to the audit.

But department official Chuck Heinlein has said some ideas already are being implemented. One is saving $1.2 million by not filling 20 vacancies at the agency.

This week a subcommittee including members of the state Senate and House of Delegates agreed to seek a response from the department during lawmakers’ November interim meetings. A report on a series of public meetings held around the state to discuss school improvements is expected to be received next month.

Education department officials are to be commended for beginning to use the consultant’s report as a template for sweeping school reform. But it was a comprehensive and in some ways very critical evaluation, and the step mentioned by Heinlein is merely scratching the surface.

For example, the report was critical of the size and power of the education department itself. It recommended a 20 percent cut in the number of people working at the agency – at least 50 positions.

No doubt legislators are curious about how the department will react to that suggestion. Lawmakers are right to insist on a response from the agency by November. That will provide time to digest the response and react to it during the annual legislative session starting in January.