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Nathan Brown

With the 2019 special session likely to be held within the next several weeks, the West Virginia Department of Education released its report summarizing the listening tour and public input on education reform meetings conducted throughout the state after the regular legislative session and at the direction of the governor.

The results from the report put together by the state Department of Education shows recommendations of wanting more social-emotional support for students in schools, higher pay for all school employees and flexibility in schools; charter schools and education savings accounts were strongly disfavored.

The National Education Association indicates the average teacher salary in West Virginia this year at $47,681. That's 49th in the country, followed only by Mississippi at $45,574.

According to the report, 1,630 people attended the public forums, with 60 percent of those being teachers, administrators and school service personnel. Of the 17,010 survey results, 7,598 were provided by educators. According to the report, there were approximately 600 roundtables discussions at the forums and 40% of attendees identified themselves as parents and community members.

School choice will be a major component of the upcoming special session. A majority of respondents indicated they are fine with expanding the state's Innovation Zones for existing schools. This approach would provide increased flexibility to schools and freedom from some Department of Education rules to try new educational approaches in the classroom. 88% of those who responded opposed public charter schools, and 79% strongly disagreed with education savings accounts. The report finds the legislature should not implement education savings accounts. ESAs provide a portion of a child's per-pupil expenditure to the parents to pay for home schooling, tutoring and other educational expenses. Those who responded cited fears of fraud, lack of accountability and the possibility of higher-income families benefiting more than middle-to-low income families as the basis, in part, for not implementing ESAs.

While charter schools are strongly disfavored, if created, the respondents believe the oversight authority should be placed with the state and local boards of education, prohibit for-profit schools and virtual schools, develop a minimal level of qualifications for teachers at charter schools, and evaluate the charters to see if the same flexibility can be given to public schools.

Any betterment of the education system is going to be a heavy lift and will take a commitment from all those who are involved to make that happen. The results of the Education Report confirm what many of us in the legislature already suspected: educators want the freedom to teach and pay that is reflective of the task they are charged with doing on a daily basis. I truly believe that will make a difference.

I have personally spoke with hundreds of educators across this state, and not one person indicated they expected to become rich or asked for an exorbitant pay increase. As legislators, we should advance the voice of the majority of our constituents who elected each of us to do a job. When campaigning, I promised to do that and will continue to do the same with this issue.

As always, I look forward to updating my constituents periodically and to provide the most transparent information possible. Please feel free to contact me directly at Nathan.Brown@wvhouse.gov or by phone at 304-340-3126 or 304-235-5674. My door is always open.

Del. Nathan Brown, D-Mingo, represents the 20th District, which includes parts of Mingo and Logan counties.

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