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Josh Sword: For the Chamber and Carmichael, it's about money, not students

Last month, West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts penned an opinion column praising the Legislature for taking “a step back from the unknown consequences” of a piece of legislation related to clean water that he said “was not ready for legislative approval.”

“West Virginians have seen all too clearly that regulatory mistakes can have major and lasting consequences,” Roberts stated.

This month, Roberts took to the radio airwaves, voicing adamant support for immediate approval of another piece of legislation, a massive and controversial education bill being pushed by the Senate Republican leadership, while he threw out another of his countless swipes at our state’s public education system. And if there’s one thing for certain about the education legislation Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, is trying to ram down his colleagues’ throats, with its many changes to West Virginia’s educational system, is it creates uncertainty.

So why the change of philosophy in a month’s time?

The legislation Roberts urged caution on would have strengthened the state’s clean water standards to keep toxins out of drinking water, legislation the Chamber and the West Virginia Manufacturers Association oppose because it could negatively affect profits for big businesses.

The “Student Success Act” education bill Roberts and the Manufacturers Association are advocating so strongly for — so strongly that he sent to his members a list of the Republican legislators who voted against a nearly identical bill during the regular session in an apparent attempt to “shame” those legislators — would make significant changes to the state’s educational system that are strongly opposed by state educators and parents. Most alarming of those changes is the initiation of charter schools, which could be operated by private businesses at the expense of existing public schools, and educators’ PEIA and retirement benefits.

In arguing for this education bill, Roberts continues to cite skewed test score statistics that don’t take into account the socio-economic challenges our students face at a much greater rate than kids in other states.

As the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy notes, we need only compare the test scores of two similar-sized schools within the same West Virginia district, schools existing under identical policies and governance but in different economic pockets of a county, to see that the schools with more low-income students have significantly lower test scores.

Making our student test scores and national rankings sound much worse than they actually are may very well help bolster Roberts’ and Carmichael’s argument for charter schools, but it does absolutely nothing to help students.

What’s more, spreading those inaccuracies damages our state’s reputation on a national scale. Over and over again, Roberts has said that our state’s economic future hinges on how attractive our state’s educational system is to prospective businesses.

Will China Energy and other ethane cracker developers consider coming here when the president of our state’s Chamber of Commerce and Mitch Carmichael are continually bad mouthing our teachers, school systems and students, even if it is with a false narrative? I have my doubts.

West Virginia’s economy is performing worse than the rest of the country. Perhaps the Chamber and West Virginia Manufacturers Association ought to focus more on how to bring jobs with good wages and benefits to West Virginia, instead of spending so much energy trying to place blame on the state educational system.

That would also be good advice Carmichael, but it’s sure to fall on deaf ears.

He’s too busy dragging on a special session at a cost of tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars per day to pursue his agenda to help out-of-state corporate interests and the likes of Betsy DeVos. He’s fought at every turn to include language in the education bill to ensure that, even though the proposed charter schools are termed “nonprofit,” the private businesses that run them with public money could still make a profit.

And that’s what this is really about: profit for out-of-state corporations.

When it comes to slandering our state’s educators and students while draining taxpayer dollars to make that happen, it appears Carmichael and Roberts are willing to spare no expense.

We’ve seen these two team up before: the rolling back of coal mine safety standards, passage of “right to work,” and repeal of prevailing wage.

Unfortunately, everyday voters can’t easily change the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce. However, they can unseat legislators who pursue this anti-working-family agenda, and it must start at the top.

Whether he lives in Jackson County or Kanawha, regardless of what elected position he is seeking in 2020, Mitch Carmichael is not serving the people of West Virginia and needs to be defeated. It’s well past time to end this war on working families.

Josh Sword is president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO.

Funerals for Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Adkins, Denvil - 11 a.m., Roush Funeral Home, Ravenswood.

Armstrong, Lola - 3 p.m., Old Pine Grove Cemetery, Sumerco.

Cottrell, H. Harvey - 2 p.m., Allen Funeral Home, Hurricane.

Hager, Doran - 1 p.m., Highland Memory Gardens, Godby.

Hedrick, Phyllis - Noon, Taylor-Vandale Funeral Home, Spencer.

Lane, Mary - 11 a.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Ludwig, Michael - 1 p.m., Epworth United Methodist Church, Ripley.

Morton, Laura - 1 p.m., Ida Baptist Church, Bentree.

Sodder, Elsie - Noon, St. Anthony’s Shrine Catholic Church, Boomer.

Stump, Ruth - 1 p.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation Inc., Grantsville.