Audit Calls for Restructuring Education in West Virginia

The Education Efficiency Audit of West Virginia's Primary and Secondary School System has declared that West Virginia has one of the most highly-centralized and impermeable education systems in the country.

The Pennsylvania consulting firm Public Works carried out the audit, and President Eric Schnurer says no other state education system is so highly regulated in code.

"We think you're the only state where the ed system is essentially set up as a fourth branch of government."

Schnurer says that while the West Virginia Department of Education is free and independent of political influence, the costs of keeping the department "constitutionally enshrined" as independent from the Executive and Legislative branches is considerable, writes Suzanne Higgins at West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

"The Legislature has attempted to assert some control over legislative policy and as a result has passed a lot of statutes to try to define what the role of the department is within constitutional limits," says Schnurer.

"So one side effect of the constitutional arrangement that you have in West Virginia is you have a lot more that has been put into statute by the legislature than any other state which makes the system much less flexible, and certainly less flexible at the local level.

"Unlike most states just about everything that needs to be done in education is set out in state code. So it's a much more top-down, centralized, rule-driven system than in most states in the country."

Schnurer believes this flies in the face of common trends in education policy, noting that West Virginia ranks second in the country for the number of state-level staff when compared to student populations.

"The WVDE has a lot of employees that have functions that aren't the direct oversight of k12 education.

"It's providing services in some cases that aren't provided by some state level departments; they oversee a variety of functions that wouldn't be in education departments in other states.

"That's roughly half of their personnel," he said.

The report recommends some restructuring and right-sizing that would free up resources for other sorts of education needs. The report proposes a 20% decrease in the State Board of Education office over the next several years.

It also includes recommendations on mandating a 180-day school year, improving teacher preparation and evaluation, raising salaries, and providing technology in every classroom for every student, writes Higgins.

It is thought that if the state was to implement all of the report's recommendations then West Virginia could see savings of up to $90 million.

State Superintendent of Schools Jorea Marple said the West Virginia Board of Education and the West Virginia Department of Education will work with the Governor and Legislature to consider the recommendations.

"Many of the recommendations align with the current direction and priorities of the WVBE and can be addressed immediately.

"Other recommendations need careful study and consideration as to their overall impact on the well being of our students, educators and service personnel."

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