Editorials, Opinion

Legislature attacks public education

The hyper-conservative Legislature has resumed the attack it started last year on West Virginia’s public schools. Some attacks are more subtle than others, but most of them are aimed at allowing complaints or even lawsuits against public schools or their employees.

There are, of course, the headline-dominating “anti-racism” and “anti-stereotyping” bills (of which there are multiple iterations). Four of them, to be exact. There are two virtually identical “anti-stereotyping” bills in the House (HB 2347 and HB 2940). Then there is the “Anti-Racism Act” (SB 130) that has unfortunately passed the Senate and is now under consideration in the House; and its much harsher counterpart SB 93, related to the “teaching of divisive acts.”

The language in all four is similar — all of it targeting the so-called “critical race theory” that isn’t actually taught in West Virginia schools. But all four essentially make it illegal to make someone feel uncomfortable by discussing history.

The Anti-Racism Act is the one gaining momentum at the moment, and it contains a provision that “Any student, parent or guardian of a student, or employee … may file a complaint pursuant to the state board policy on conflict resolution.” This is slightly better than SB 93’s provision that allows teachers to be dismissed. (Don’t even get us started on the book ban bill that would allow schools and libraries to be criminally charged for “obscene” material.)

No one is telling our kids that they are personally responsible for slavery or racism. While the bill technically does not prohibit “the discussion of those concepts in theory as part of an academic course,” teachers will likely be too afraid to run afoul of the law to have open and honest discussions about the darker parts of America’s past.

Less flashy has been the reintroduction of the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” (HB 3118) — the vague and yet terrifying affirmation that parents should have at least some control over their children’s education. It states, “The parental right to direct education includes, but is not limited to, the right to choose, as an alternative to public education, private, religious, or home schools, and the right to make reasonable choices within public schools for one’s child.”

Parents already have these rights and while affirming them might not be a bad thing on its own, the bill also lets parents sue “the state, any agency or locality thereof, any government official, or any person acting under color of law.” (It’s not clear if public charters would count, but we’re almost certain public schools would.)

What better way to bankrupt public education than to let every upset parent sue their local school? And be paid out with our tax dollars?

So while the Legislature is preparing to throw public schools under the lawsuit-bus, it’s also putting together a Charter Schools Stimulus Fund, to provide tax dollars to help charters with start-up costs. We can’t understand why a supposedly fiscally conservative Legislature would happily throw money at failing charters but not properly fund “failing” public schools. Unless the primary goal is to gut public schools, which it seems to be.

Many legislators have taken great pleasure in breaking our public education system, then running on a platform complaining how broken it is. And instead of sending representatives to Charleston who actually want to fix our public schools, West Virginia continues to send ones who only seek to destroy them.