As we embark with West Virginia Republicans in the Legislature on their most recent education reform journey, I am reminded of the scene in the story of “Alice in Wonderland,” when Alice came to the fork in the road.
She asked the Cheshire Cat which path she should take. He replied that it all depends on where you are going. To which Alice replied, “I don’t know where I am going.” To which the Cheshire Cat responded, “ ... then it doesn’t matter which road you take.”
If House and Senate Republicans have a roadmap or predetermined destination for their current education reform journey, then it must be a secret known only to the initiated. Recent actions would suggest that they have neither a roadmap nor a predetermined destination for their most recent education excursion.
A couple of weeks ago, apparently without doing their proper due diligence, the Republican supermajority in the House of Delegates, on the fly, approved an amendment to their Hope Scholarship bill. It would have siphoned off over $196 million from the state’s public schools to provide scholarships for students to attend private schools or to be home-schooled.
House Republicans passed the bill, but they later rescinded their vote, to better define and explain the fiscal note. Then, they passed it again with the same amount intact, even though a substantial number of their own, including House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, voted against it.
House and Senate Republicans, for years, have talked about the need to reform public education and to provide more school choice. But they have yet to cast a clear vision or to lay out a comprehensive, coherent narrative of where their ideas for education reform and school choice ideas will take West Virginia’s public education system. Instead, they have merely tossed around a few buzz words — like charter schools, school choice, education savings accounts and, lately, virtual schools and Hope Scholarships.
A close look through the historical lens of the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision on Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, might provide us with a glimpse of part of the destination to which we are headed.
The Brown decision was supposed to have ushered in sweeping desegregation of public schools. Instead, it first ignited the massive resistance movement to school desegregation, particularly in Southern states. This massive resistance led to the establishment of segregated, private education academies. In parts of Virginia, public schools were closed for several years and most Blacks in those counties received little or no schooling during that time.
Further racial and economic segregation of West Virginia’s public schools might not be an intended outcome of the education reform ideas being postulated by House and Senate Republicans. However, it will certainly be a part of the reality.
That means that the students who attend these private, virtual and home schools will have fewer contacts with people who do not look, think, talk and believe the way they do. This might limit their social, cultural and even intellectual development, and keep them from understanding, appreciating and accepting anyone who does not share their world view. This might not bode well for them or other West Virginians.
Many would agree that West Virginia’s public school system needs to be reimagined, reengineered and redesigned. However, that does not appear to be what the Republicans have in mind. Someone might want to grab an education roadmap, and check to see if they can book some rooms in “Education No Man’s Land,” because that appears to be where we are headed.