Snapshot of the Legislature

When the West Virginia Press Association hosts its annual legislative breakfast (this year, at the halfway point of the legislative session), there is often so much interesting information floating around it is difficult to decide where to focus. Those folks have a lot to handle in 60 days.

In fact, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, asked the journalists gathered in the room to please go back home and remind our readers Mountain State lawmakers are not the same as members of Congress. He said he and his colleagues spend 60 days trying to do the jobs they were elected to do in Charleston, but then go home and continue with their lives, having to live under the same laws they just passed. He said “It’s not a career.”

Given the number of things lawmakers have to juggle during the session, I wanted to give you just a few snapshots of the kinds of things we were hearing them say at the halfway mark.

Hanshaw told us before the session started, he asked his wife, who is a teacher, to tell him what would be the number one things that could be done in Charleston for education in our state. She and some of her colleagues gathered for an evening and then told him something he was not expecting. According to that group of teachers, the best thing lawmakers can do for education in this state is to fix the foster care system.

There are 7,000 kids in foster care here, according to Hanshaw. A number like that puts an enormous strain on the resources and training of our teachers.

State Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, on the other hand, was still confident about the broad effort to tackle education.

“When we find a problem, let’s fix it,” he said. “That’s all we have to do.

“It’s a simple problem we’re addressing this year.”

No one else in the room was referring to the challenges in education as “simple.”

State Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, took his turn at the mic to remind us about another elephant in the room … or not. While commending Carmichael for at least attempting to be a leader on education, he lamented the absence of the man who SHOULD be leading the charge.

“Where is the governor?” he said. “The governor should be here daily … to take the bull by the horns.”

Prezioso said he felt “disenfranchised when the governor comes to the capitol and says ‘They’re making a mess up here,’ … and then goes back to The Greenbrier.

“It’s not right.”

Remarkably, both Prezioso and House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, made comments something along the lines of “we need to be cautious about how we’re going to spend money.”

It’s amazing what a difference a few years makes.

Miley presented the idea of regional versions of the Mountaineer Challenge Academies, which might address two problems with one project, rather than the charter school model being discussed by state senators.

The mission of the current single Mountaineer Challenge Academy in Kingwood is “to train and mentor selected at-risk youth to become contributing members of society using the 8 Core Components in a quasi-military environment during a 22-week residential and one year Post-Residential follow-up program.”

Miley’s point was that the kinds of kids who might end up hand-picked for charter schools are likely already performing well in traditional public schools. It is the kids, and West Virginia is seeing an ever-growing number of them, who are struggling for various reasons who might benefit from a change in format.

As always, the breakfast event was a fascinating window into what is happening during the legislative session, but also the personalities that play into making it all happen.

Lawmakers have a chance to do some truly good things for education in our state if they take the time to get it right — and act for the right reasons. We’d all better wish them luck in the next 30 days while they sort it out.

Christina Myer is executive editor of The Parkersburg News and Sentinel. She can be reached via e-mail at cmyer@newsandsentinel.com

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