Education: Lawmakers should pay heed to survey results

Though state Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, has already begun the predictable work of discrediting results of this spring’s eight regional education roundtable events and online surveys, the results must not be ignored by lawmakers gearing up for a special session to revisit the ideas in last session’s Senate Bill 451.

Carmichael called a report summarizing the roundtable and survey results “totally expected … and we could have anticipated the results of it.”

He then added a touch of snark with “But I’m glad they went through the exercise of going out to the communities.”

Carmichael appears to be planning to dismiss the report as a “disappointing” result of “incredibly low participation rates.”

Further, he suggests the results are of limited worth because “There is a very small segment of the people that even weighed in on that, and the majority of those were teachers.”

Bearing in mind, of course, that lawmakers saw fit to schedule sessions only in Kanawha, Cabell, McDowell, Raleigh, Harrison, Ohio, Wood and Morgan counties, which still were attended by 1,630 people (60 percent of them being teachers, administrators and school service personnel); and 17,010 online surveys were taken (only 7,598 of those by teachers), it is an odd choice to assume the opinions of educators carry little weight in the discussion of an education omnibus bill.

And, in fact, the report shows participants had four top priorities: a teacher and school service personnel pay raise, increased funding for social and emotional support systems in schools, incentivizing high-performing schools by giving increased freedom from some regulations, and funding supplements to strengthen skills in shortage areas.

There was even, believe it or not, a recommendation for implementing some kind of charter school program, IF oversight is placed with local boards of education, for-profit and virtual schools are prohibited, a minimal level of qualifications for teachers is developed, and charter schools can then be evaluated to see whether their flexibility could (or should) be given to other public schools.

In other words, the report shows a step toward some kind of middle ground that Carmichael and his fellow lawmakers would be unwise to disregard. The education of our young people is too important to be playing political games.