In October it was widely reported that West Virginia’s national assessment test scores among fourth and eighth graders plummetted to historic lows. The West Virginia legislature has been steadily increasing funding per pupil to the WV Department of Education. Despite this investment of $14,163 per student, West Virginia ranks 45th in education, and enrollment in WV Schools is down 11,584 students over the last four school years.
As educators clamor for more funding every year, and the Republican majority legislature responds with more spending — it is worth noting that the next 5 states ranked higher than West Virginia on average spend $11,927 or 16% less per student. This leads us to the question why?
Former Charleston Gazette-Mail Education Reporter (2014-2022), Ryan Quinn recently posted an article on Mountain State Spotlight with notes from this eight years of covering the WV public school system.
“It (the data used by the state) shows where the problems have been for years. It’s the attention, and action, that are lacking.Ryan Quinn was the Charleston Gazette-Mail’s Education Reporter from 2014 until December, 2022. He is now faculty issues reporter for Inside Higher Ed.
In Quinn’s article he sums up by saying, “It (the data used by the state) shows where the problems have been for years. It’s the attention, and action, that are lacking.”
Quinn has highlighted that most involved in education policy in the state including a revolving door of legislators focus on the general principle that poverty is the insurmountable obstacle that holds West Virginia’s education system back.
The West Virginia Board of Education recognizes teacher recruitment challenges as a major contributor to the problem. The WV BOE released specific recruiting challenges in the state that include a lack of a robust multi-channel marketing campaign and costs associated with teacher preparation and licensure.
However other organizations like the Learning Policy Institute who evaluate “Teaching Attractiveness Ratings” have historically shown West Virginia to be competitive with surrounding states.
So what is the answer? Quinn was right, it is the lack of attention and action to the real problem – poverty.
Evidence-based programs that expand child care assistance, creating a monthly child allowance, and focus on raising wages in West Virginia have to be on the table for West Virginia to succeed.
West Virginians make 25% less than the national average. A number that has grown by 6% over the last 4 years. This coupled with inflation will continue to make it harder for West Virginia students to achieve stable employment upon graduation and further contribute to population decline and “brain drain”.
Democrats in WV point to policies such as business tax cuts and the repeal of right to work as failures. Meanwhile, Republicans blame Clinton, Obama, and Biden’s “War on Coal” as the problem. While as Quinn points out, both are not taking action on the real issue – the income of the average West Virginian is falling and that impacts West Virginia children.