- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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Aug. 10

Charleston Daily Mail on state school districts:

News stories about misuse of public trust by someone at a county school district have happened far too often in West Virginia over the years.

Most recently, the allegations come from Logan County, where former superintendent Phyllis Doty is accused of using education funds to help pay for her son’s wedding.

Surely, the investigation will continue and any misuse of public funds will be prosecuted according to the law.

But the allegations are another reminder that, for years in the Mountain State, some county school systems have seemed to serve as a spoils system and jobs provider for entrenched officials and their families rather than an organization that effectively educates the county’s children.

With consistently high per pupil spending on education yet low education attainment results in West Virginia, perhaps it is time to rethink the county school system model.

In a June 22 opinion piece, Daily Mail columnist Mark Sadd pointed out that government reformists are beginning to call for the consolidation of the state’s 55 county school districts into a smaller number of regional districts.

On the surface, that sounds good, as improved efficiency and performance in government should always be a public priority. But Sadd suggests that instead of fewer yet bigger and more powerful districts, the more effective solution is more school districts as in small, independent districts that could be organized within and across counties.

“Today, West Virginia has among the fewest number of school districts of the states. There are smaller, peer states with better public schools that have more school districts,” wrote Sadd.

“Four times larger in area than West Virginia, Wyoming, with 585,000 people, has 92,000 public school students spread among 60 districts. New Hampshire has 190,000 students among 288 districts. Iowa has 500,000 spread among 357 districts, or more than six times that West Virginia has. The public schools in these three states are rated much higher than West Virginia’s.”

While a county school system was mandated by the 1933 reforms, there is no reason to mandate smaller districts. The Legislature could consider legislation that would allow independent school districts to form, under parameters of assuring quality education, of course.

Yes, there are many good schools in West Virginia now with excellent administrators, teachers and staff, and many kids who seek it can get a quality education.

Yet there is still much room for improvement across our state’s public education system. State policymakers should study the success of states with independent school districts and give serious consideration to reforms that would allow for such systems in West Virginia.

Online:

https://www.wvgazettemail.com

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Aug. 5

The Journal on opioid addition:

Drug addiction has exploded in the United States during the past decade or so. Few, if any, states have been hit as hard as West Virginia, which has one of the highest drug overdose death rates in the nation.

Addiction is a disease, too often a terminal one. It needs to be treated that way.

But officials of the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services do not see it that way. A special provision of rules for the two programs, the Institutions for Mental Disease Exclusion, may be keeping many addicts from getting the help they need to get clean.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito and 28 other senators are seeking a change in that rule.

As Capito explained it, the exclusion prohibits Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements for services provided by residential addiction treatment facilities with more than 16 beds. In other words, the very type of treatment that may help many addicts is barred to them if they rely on Medicare or Medicaid.

Tens of millions of Americans depend on those two programs. They cannot afford treatment on their own.

Capito and the 28 other lawmakers sent CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt a letter asking that the exclusion be lifted “in light of the ongoing heroin and prescription opioid epidemic …”

But their letter noted a similar initiative by senators in 2014. It did not receive favorable treatment.

Since then, the epidemic has worsened. Virtually the entire southern half of West Virginia has a heroin overdose rate in the top category used by federal statisticians - 20 or more deaths per 100,000 people. Many other states have regions in that category, too.

Federal officials are right to worry about Medicare and Medicaid finances. One means of addressing that is to limit the types of care covered by the programs.

But the drug abuse epidemic demands action in every way possible by local, state and federal governments. Capito and the other senators are right to seek more involvement by Medicare and Medicaid. Without the change they seek, thousands of Americans, many of them West Virginians, will die needlessly.

Online:

https://www.journal-news.net/

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Aug. 9

The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch on higher education investment:

Whoever is calling the shots at the Capitol in Charleston next year may want to think twice about continuing the recent trend of reducing state aid for West Virginia’s higher education institutions. Curtailing support for those institutions could undermine a key economic component of the state at a time when the Mountain State’s struggling economy needs all the help it can get.

The point was underscored last week by a study from West Virginia University’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research gauging the economic impact of 21 higher education institutions on their respective local economies. The study, sought by the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, concluded that those universities and colleges contributed about $2.7 billion overall to the state’s economy in 2014 either directly or indirectly. While by no means the main economic engine of the state, that number equates to about 3.5 percent of the state’s total economy - a significant enough portion that warrants careful handling by the state’s policy makers. Altogether, that spending supported about 22,000 jobs either at the institutions or by spinoff economic activity, the study found.

Nearly half of the total impact was attributed to West Virginia University in Morgantown, while Marshall University was credited with generating about $398 million. The jobs impact tied to Marshall was about 3,270. Also locally, Mountwest Community and Technical College was found to have an overall economic impact of $21.7 million. The loss of either of those institutions would leave a large economic hole in the Huntington area.

Of course the state government did provide a piece of that higher education economic activity in 2014 by allocating $401 million to the state’s 12 four-year institutions and its nine two-year institutions. But the impact linked to the colleges and universities was nearly seven times greater than the state’s investment - a good return on the state’s money.

In recent years, though, tighter budgets have prompted lawmakers and the governor to reduce their investment - a trend that could be harmful down the road. For example, in the budget year studied by WVU researchers, the state’s higher education system operated with a 7.5 percent cut from the previous year and experienced an additional cut of 3.5 percent in the middle of the year. West Virginia was among the few states to reduce higher education spending during that time frame.

Universities and colleges have responded by cutting their operating costs, but they also have had to make up part of the difference by raising tuition and fees. That shifting of a bigger financial load to students and their families could potentially mean fewer families can afford to send their children to college - and also potentially lower enrollments for the institutions. Fewer students would mean even more tenuous financial footing for the colleges and universities.

We hope policy makers in Charleston will keep in mind the important roles that the state’s higher education institutions fulfill. They are not only crucial for educating our young people and building the more educated workforce that our state desperately needs, but they also are vital to their local economies. Maintaining the state government’s financial support for universities and colleges is a good investment on two fronts.

Online:

https://www.herald-dispatch.com

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