Editorials, Opinion

Self-fulfilling prophecy of ‘bad schools’

Monongalia and Preston county schools received devastating financial news this past week.

Mon County is expected to lose 350 students to charter schools, many of them to the new in-person charter, while Preston will likely lose 44 — to the tune of $1.9 million and $272,000 respectively.

Because of legislation passed in the last few years, parents can now choose to enroll their kids in “public” charter schools. We use the term “public” loosely, because charters are not obligated to accept every child the way real public schools do, nor do charters have to hire certified teachers the way real public schools do. But by slapping the word “public” on these charters, the State of West Virginia sanctifies them to receive taxpayer funding. So when the students leave public schools for charters, they take tax dollars with them — $4,300 in state funding per child, in fact.

Preston will arguably be hit harder by the loss than Mon County, though Mon County will certainly feel the squeeze. Preston schools are looking at a fiscal year 2022-23 budget of $47.5 million, including the quarter-million dollar loss. In comparison, the county’s schools had a $53.5 million total budget in 2020.

Mon County schools will have $145 million for this coming year, after the lost $1.9 million is taken into account. This is up from the $132.5 million budget the county’s schools had for 2020. However, as Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr. said, every cent has already been earmarked, which makes any loss hard to absorb.

It’s even more difficult when, as Preston Superintendent Stephen Wotring said, you don’t know who these kids are. If it’s, say, 50 second-graders, then the district knows it will need to consolidate second-grade classrooms, let a couple teachers go, maybe eliminate a couple bus routes. But if it’s only a handful of students from every grade level in every school, then the staffing and transportation requirements don’t change.  But now, schools have significantly less cash to cover the same costs.

We can understand parents’ desire to send their children to charter schools. It usually stems from their kid’s treatment: if they’re being bullied, if they’re receiving enough support, if they’re being appropriately academically challenged. A parent or child who sees the public school system as failing them is going to want an alternative, and they are justified.

But less money won’t make public schools better.

We’re seeing the beginning of a destructive cycle — a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will.

Displeased families don’t think the public schools are good enough, so they enroll their kids in charter schools instead. Public schools lose the funding for each child that left. In the absence of adequate funding, public schools’ quality decreases, so more students leave, which takes away more funding, which means the quality goes down, so more students leave …

The cycle starts here, now, but if we’re not careful, the cycle won’t end until the region’s public schools, which have been some of the best in the nation, become some of the worst.