Use Education Money Wisely

State Board of Education members are considering changes in West Virginia’s public school funding formula. Needless to say, that has some educators in the 55 counties concerned.

Board members have a variety of initiatives on which they would like to spend more money. They range from paying teachers more to hiring more “response personnel.” That category includes school nurses, guidance counselors and psychologists. Some board members think school systems should get more state help with building maintenance and technical education programs.

It all sounds good. But from where will the money come?

One possibility is funding that normally goes to the counties on the basis of student enrollment. Because that has declined, the School Aid Formula could call for about $30 million less next year in per-pupil funding for counties.

Enrollment is down throughout the state. A total of 265,755 students are enrolled in public schools this year, according to the West Virginia Department of Education. That is 5.8 percent fewer than in the 2011-12 school year.

Declines have been much worse in some Northern Panhandle counties. That has prompted some, notably Brooke County, to consolidate some schools during recent years. Brooke, incidentally, has had the worst enrollment dropoff during the period cited above, at 14.6 percent. Other Northern Panhandle counties’ percentage declines include: Wetzel, 13.2; Tyler, 10.4; Hancock, 7.9; Ohio, 4.5; Marshall, 2.6.

But the menu of ideas at the state level raises a disturbing question: Are state board members thinking of taking $30 million from the counties, then pouring it all into initiatives directed from Charleston?

In general terms, that sounds like a bad idea. Our state already has been criticized for public school administration that is too centralized at the state level. Reducing that could give the counties more money to spend.

Lower enrollment certainly does seem to call for less funding. But taking it from the counties — where local school administrators and boards of education know what local students need — only to plow it into new state programs does not sound like a wise approach.

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