Students Deserve Better Than ‘Omnibus’ Bill

I have been told on more than one occasion that kindergarten teachers are all sunshine and rainbows. There may be some truth to that statement, although I am sure my own children would disagree.

I do consider myself to generally be an upbeat, positive person. Most days, I try my best to avoid confrontation and controversy. There are times in life, though, that you must live outside your comfort zone. This is one of those times for me. I cannot, in good conscience, fail to bring to your attention the travesty that is currently being disguised as an educational reform bill in West Virginia.

The Omnibus Education Bill is a 143-page document packed with legislation that could negatively affect our current and future students. A 5 percent teacher raise has been highlighted in hopes that the public will ignore the many other components. Since I cannot begin to address each one in this article, I would like to take the opportunity to point out what is lacking from the bill and what I consider to be the most devastating legislation.

I think that we can all agree that our state is in crisis. West Virginia ranks No. 1 in childhood poverty in the nation with children ages 0-6 and fourth highest for overall childhood poverty. More children are being raised by their grandparents and are being placed in foster care. One in four students has experienced some form of childhood trauma. Our students are in desperate need of mental health services, yet our schools are severely understaffed in the area of mental health professionals: school counselors, nurses, social workers and psychiatrists. Our children need smaller class sizes, so that teachers can better meet the educational, social and emotional needs of their students. This reform bill does not address these real concerns.

As if that is not bad enough, the Omnibus Ed Bill would take much needed money from public education to form charter schools. These supposed public charters would be run by their own governing boards. They would use public education revenue but not be held accountable for their finances, employment and curriculum. So, without tax paying citizens’ approval, the board of education would be forced to cut programs, cut teaching positions ensuring higher class sizes and raise the levy rate to compensate for the loss of revenue being outsourced to these private schools.

As much as I disagree with these components, two things frustrate me even more. First and foremost, the Omnibus Ed Bill is a violation of our rights. Article 6 Section 30 of the West Virginia Constitution states, “No act hereafter passed shall embrace more than one object, and that shall be expressed in the title.” Bills are required to focus on a single issue, so that they can pass or fail on their own merit. Citizens deserve to understand what they are voting in favor of or against without having to research an obscenely lengthy document.

Second, the legislators that created this reform bill did not seek advisement from those that know our students and their educational needs best, educators. Instead, they were advised by lobbyists. Then, when they knew that the bill would be dissolved in the finance committee, they voted to pass finance and take the bill directly to the Senate floor. This has only happened twice in West Virginia history.

I do not want you to read this article and blindly accept my opinion of this bill as truth. I hope you will take the time to further educate yourself on all the components. Then, if you are willing, consider making a phone call to our West Virginia legislators. You can tell them that I said our students deserve better!

Miller is a kindergarten teacher at Ritchie School in Wheeling.


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