Randy Yohe Published

Debate Over Public Vs. Non-Traditional Education Gets Politically Heated

broken school
Everyone's goal is to fix what's broken in W.Va. education. It's the methods that differ.
LA Johnson

There are two schools of thought dominating the politics of improving West Virginia’s education systems. Some promote non-traditional education, while others say public schools must be prioritized.

State Treasurer Riley Moore oversees the legally revitalized Hope Scholarship program, offering state funding to families seeking educational avenues outside the public school system. Recently, while announcing his run for the U.S. Congress, Moore said he would push to create national educational savings accounts offering more school options across America. In doing so, he made a backhanded swipe at the public school system.

“This should be a federal program, we must have school choice for all of our children. You see the national test scores, they are abysmal,” Moore said. “Fourth grade and eighth grade reading and math has never been lower. We have to put our children first. There’s a war going on with the family in this country, and we have to be able to give them choice over indoctrination.”

Dale Lee is a long time educator and president of the West Virginia Education Association. He said implying that public schools indoctrinate students is a false, politically charged claim.

“We’re teaching them hopefully to become critical thinkers, and to look at all sides of issues,” Lee said. “As a middle school teacher told me, if I could indoctrinate my middle school kids, all of them would wear deodorant and stay off their phones during class. It’s not as simple as the far right wants to make us believe. We’re not indoctrinating anyone.”

Gov. Jim Justice said it was improper to speak so strongly against public schools.

“I do not think that it is constructive in any way for us to throw rocks,” Justice said. “Probably every last one of us that’s casting a rock went through the public school system, and I’m a believer in our public school system.”

Justice said supporting public and non-traditional schooling not only offers needed choice for West Virginia families, but sets up competition that makes the entire state education system better.

“Should we give our kids and our parents choice? Absolutely,” Justice said. “Without question, the competition level, whether it be charter or private or public, the competition level will make us better.“

Dale Lee countered that competition between public and private educational entities can not help improve things because they’re not on a level playing field.

“You’re not comparing apples to apples. I looked at a charter school back in the early 2010’s in Pittsburgh,” Lee said. “That school was successful, but it had a 15 to one student teacher ratio. I just left the classroom in Princeton High School, teaching a class of 38 kids and 12 on special needs. Anyone will tell you, in education, I can do far more at 15 to 1 students than 38 to 1.”

This debate will continue into the 2023 legislative session, where opinions on educating West Virginia children will become state policy proposals.