Hoppy Kercheval

Education reform is a high, but reachable, peak

The is the climbing season on Mount Everest.  It’s the narrow window when conditions are most favorable for individuals to try to make it to the top (29,035 feet) of the highest peak on the planet.

There are at least 20 different routes to the summit that have been identified and tried over the years, but most climbers take either the South Col Route or the Northeast Ridge Route.
There are different strategies and climbers vary in abilities, but the goal is the same — to get to the top.

With that mind, consider the ongoing special session of the West Virginia Legislature to try to agree on comprehensive education reform. Like the Everest climbers, lawmakers share a common goal. For the legislators, it’s improving education outcomes. But what route to take?
The Republican Senate-backed omnibus bill, SB 451, failed during the regular session.
It was tantamount to the rare Everest climber who takes the most difficult route. Yes, the reward at the top may have been greater, but the chance of success is seriously diminished.

Since the end of the regular session in March, lawmakers have been trying to figure out another way up the mountain. The latest proposal comes from House Speaker Roger Hanshaw.
The Clay County Republican has devised an approach he hopes will make all 100 members of his chamber feel like they are heading in the same direction up the  slope toward education betterment.

Hanshaw has broken the full membership of the House into four equal committees. Education bills will be assigned to the committees to be worked. Just like the short climbing window for Everest, Hanshaw believes lawmakers have a narrow period to do their work.

“We won’t make a protracted exercise out of this. It’s not going to be many weeks,” he said. “It may well be one week, but it won’t be many weeks. We’re going to focus on this issue, take votes and then go home.” That “week” is expected to be in mid- to late-June.

“What passes, passes. What fails, fails, and then we move on. But for this one isolated moment, we’ve got a chance to focus on an issue in a way that we don’t have in the regular session.”
Hanshaw has put forth a reasonable strategy, but differences will inevitably emerge, even among Republicans who are not unified on how hard they should push on controversial issues like charter schools and education savings accounts.

Just like the Everest climbers, many of these lawmakers are single-minded of purpose. Some feel they did not get to where they are on the political mountain by compromising.

Over the next few weeks, lawmakers will prepare for the big push to the top. The journey will not be life-threatening as it is on Everest, but it is perilous. The route to true education reform that will improve outcomes is difficult, some would say impossible.

But know this about those climbers who at this moment are on Everest. More than half of those who get above base camp achieve the improbable and struggle to the top. Lawmakers should be no less dedicated in their attempt to reach the summit of education reform.
Hoppy Kercheval  is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.