Patricia Rucker, a Republican from Jefferson County, will be the new leader of the state Senate Education Committee when the Legislature convenes for its regular session next month.
Based on Rucker’s personal and legislative background, it appears Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, has placed an elected official who favors home-schooling (in fact, she has home-schooled her own children), supports public money to fund charter schools and wants to loosen vaccine requirements in charge of public education policy that moves through the state’s upper chamber.
Tuesday, Carmichael outlined his own goals for education in the upcoming 2019 session, including revisiting a bill that would provide tuition-free community and technical college education and another 5 percent pay raise for teachers after the one negotiated during the strike earlier this year. No one should oppose either of those things if they’re done right.
Carmichael also said he will again push to legalize charter schools — private schools funded with public money that do not have to conform to state education standards or regulations. He said he wants such schools to focus on science and math. Of course, some charter schools in other states use their freedom from state rules to pursue religious agendas or skirt around accurate education regarding science and history.
As for Rucker, one of her biggest legislative achievements was getting legislation passed that allowed home-school students to qualify for the state’s Promise Scholarship without having to earn a high school equivalency degree. Some of her failed efforts include an attempt to repeal the state’s K-12 Common Core math and English standards; trying to pass a bill that would provide public money for education savings accounts for students to get tutoring and attend private and religious schools; and backing several attempts to allow more vaccine exemptions for school children (she has said she has her own children vaccinated but doesn’t feel the state should decide for everyone else).
West Virginians can expect some or all of these issues to come up again with Rucker at the helm of the education committee.
Criticism of West Virginia’s public education system is certainly valid in some areas, but Rucker seems like the wrong choice to turn things around.
As West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee put it, Rucker’s words and actions “have been extremist and in many ways anti-public education.” Rucker has countered she’s not “an enemy” of public education for supporting other views. That’s not a defense, however, when those other views put students’ health at risk, or drain resources from the state to set up specialized schools that may not produce children who are any more educated and ready for the world than those who go through the public system.
The state Legislature needs to stand up and soundly reject any legislation that would do either of those things.