Dead Last: Lawmakers must find ways to innovate

West Virginians — lawmakers, business owners, workers, students … all of us — are struggling mightily with how to make the changes that will propel us past the mess we have been trying to clean up for the past few years. We are proud, tradition-based people who sometimes lose sight of the horizon because we are focused so firmly on the task at hand. And so, we have suffered through business-as-usual, government-as-usual, education-as-usual, even as we tell ourselves a transition is essential.

Unfortunately, numbers released as part of WalletHub’s State Innovation Index show where throwing money at those problems without making any truly difficult decisions or implementing change has left us. Dead last.

West Virginia ranks 51st overall among the 50 states and District of Columbia: 51st in share of technology companies; 49th in share of Science Technology Engineering and Math professionals; 47th in projected STEM-job demand by 2020; 46th for eighth grade math and science performance; 45th for both research and development spending per capita and average Internet speed; and 37th for share of science and engineering graduates over age 25.

Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Census Bureau 2014 Annual Survey of School System Finances, West Virginia ranks 21st in per-pupil spending. Handing more money than 31 other states to public elementary and secondary school systems has not yielded improvement. In fact, tossing around ever-larger amounts of money we do not have has created more problems that chase away potential employers. It has certainly done nothing to keep the best young minds we have from leaving the state, or entice any of them to return.

Regulatory reform; tax reform; the death of King Bureaucracy; an education system that lets teachers (and parents) turn our young people into well-educated, productive, responsible members of society; a real plan to fight back against the drug epidemic; and proof to employers that state government understands its role and knows how to fulfill it — these are what Mountain State residents need. It is an attitude shift that has so far proven nearly impossible to make. Lawmakers are running out of time to find the innovative solutions this year that will make that shift possible.

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