Kids need supports, not charters

I have 24 fantastic students in my first-grade class who have a world of opportunities waiting for them. For many of them, school is their safe haven from broken homes, violence, drug abuse and hunger. They go to bed scared to death, often can’t sleep and don’t know what the next day or night will bring.

The eight or so hours they spend in school is a time for them to breathe, feel nurtured and, of course, get the education they need to move on with their lives and become productive members of society.

What does a child need who had to flee his home with his mother because of an abusive father or boyfriend? What does a child need who comes to school with tears in her eyes? What does a child need who hasn’t done her homework and just stares out the window with a blank expression?

These situations face teachers and school support staff every day in schools across West Virginia. These children need public schools that care about them and their needs. They need schools that provide appropriate supports to deal with their challenges. Students who are hurting need school psychologists who can work one-on-one with them to help them through their traumas. True, some schools have school psychologists and counselors, but they’re mostly used for psychoeducational testing, not to offer individualized help. That must change.

Investing in our neighborhood public schools is what our kids need, not charter schools or education savings accounts (ESAs), which are really vouchers and like writing a blank check to schools or parents without any accountability strings attached.

The recommendations in the just-released state Department of Education report reflect precisely what is needed in our schools: Health, social and emotional services; a strong curriculum for our kids; investment in our existing public schools; and no privatization efforts, like charters and ESAs.

So why does Senate President Mitch Carmichael, who represents the district where I teach in Roane County, continually push privatization? I have no idea. The public doesn’t want it. The efforts have a terrible track record across the country. Carmichael comes to Roane County and tells the community that the county will never have to worry about having charter schools because there’s no outside group or business to support it. So, he is basically saying that he wouldn’t push for it in his own backyard but would for everyone else.

Senate and House leadership should start listening to the public instead of those in their little bubble. They aren’t reflecting the public’s sentiment for a strong, well-resourced public school system.

Teachers, parents and others are tired of the legislative deja vu of pairing a teacher pay raise to charters and ESAs. It didn’t work in the last two legislative sessions, and it won’t work again. Before you make the same mistake, think about the students I see every day who, like thousands of others throughout West Virginia, need services and supports in school to succeed in school, jobs and life.

Ashley Williams

Spencer, W.Va.