Bad Idea: Schools do not need unfunded mandates

No doubt many public schools in West Virginia ought to have more qualified people available to counsel students. Full-fledged psychologists are called for to help some children, especially during the current substance abuse crisis that has affected so many parents. We know schools today are taking care of kids in a way that reaches far beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. Many teachers and administrators report feeling as though they are responsible for the entire wellbeing of some children — from clothing, food and hygiene to (oh, yeah) education.

So, at first glance, a bill moving through the West Virginia House of Delegates appears to have merit. It is House Bill 2397 and, if enacted, it would mandate that every public school system must employ at least one psychologist for every 1,000 students in kindergarten through seventh grade.

Trouble is, like so many great ideas emanating from the Capitol, there is no funding attached to the bill. It is one more unfunded mandate — an expensive order from Charleston that has to be paid for at the local level. In this case, of course, some of the counties in which students have the greatest need for such help are also the ones with the least money to throw around.

For every dollar school systems are told how to spend, they have that much less discretion in meeting local needs that may not be obvious to state officials. In this situation, less money would be available for instructional purposes.

Unfunded mandates are one example of the counterproductive centralization of public education. They need to stop.