SOUTH CHARLESTON - Pay increases for educators, adding five or 10 minutes to a school day and a bill that one West Virginia senator thinks would encourage families to understand the importance of education are among the suggestions leaders in their fields believe could lead education reform in the state.
State Sen. Erik Wells, D-7th District, plans to introduce a bill during the upcoming legislative session, which begins Wednesday, that would revoke the driver's licenses of parents whose children miss too many days of school.
Although Wells said he won't bet it will be one of the approximately 200 bills of 2,000 that will become law this session, he does hope it will increase awareness about the importance of education and hold parents accountable for the actions of their children.
On Friday, Wells told West Virginia reporters the bill will call for revoking the driver's licenses of individuals whose children are inexcusably absent for 10 or more days of the school year. Before revoking the license, the bill would stipulate that a parent would receive a warning when the child has been absent five times, he added.
Wells said he doesn't doubt that if the bill is passed, it would be challenged, and that he's not aware of any other states having similar legislation.
"I think responsibility has to start somewhere and it is the parents' responsibility as parents to put the welfare of their child first, and one of those aspects is to get the child to school," Wells said.
He also thinks a student's ability to participate in extracurricular activities, such as playing a sport, should also be taken away.
"There needs to be some consequences," Wells said.
Wells is hopeful the bill will receive some reception and thinks the support of individuals, such as West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee, who also spoke to the media Friday, will help.
Ultimately, sometimes legislation is introduced to send a message that lawmakers are trying to address problems, Wells explained.
"I think that one of the things a parent owes to a child that they bring into this world is to provide an environment to make sure they're in school," he said. "I just have a hard time as a parent, seeing how a parent would neglect their child, and I do think it's neglect ... you are hampering that child's ability to succeed in life by keeping them out of school and that's a disservice to that child.
"So why should the state of West Virginia and the taxpayers of this state, who are perhaps going to have to end up caring for that child, allow you the privilege of driving?"
Other than holding parents responsible to see that their children attend school, reform to education includes providing teachers with salaries that can compete with other states' wages in order to attract and retain the best, Lee said.
Certified teachers with specializations in core subjects are leaving the state and leaving West Virginia students to learn from individuals who are teaching subjects outside of their field, Lee added.
West Virginia Board of Education President Priscilla Haden said pay increases for teachers shouldn't be out of the question; however, she would like to see the school day extended five to 10 minutes for that additional pay.