- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:

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Dec. 12

Charleston Daily Mail on lowering achievement standards:

The West Virginia Board of Education last month put out for public comment proposals to change the state’s required number of credits for high school graduation and change the non-weighted course grading scale.

“We’re hearing from the (county public school systems) loudly and clearly that they want flexibility,” state schools Superintendent Steve Paine told the board at its Nov. 7 meeting.

“With flexibility comes great responsibility. We don’t educate kids in Charleston. They educate kids out in the districts, and they have the responsibility to provide rigorous and robust programs for the kids. So we think that we’ve prescribed a rigorous curriculum in 21 credits that enables kids to participate, not only in our core curriculum, but also to pursue higher-level electives, career-technical electives” and the arts.

So far, it sounded good. The state school board should regularly be considering changes to what is a very bureaucratic process that tends to tie the hands of county school districts and discourage innovation among educators.

But the suggested changes are seen by many as weakening education standards and could bring achievement further down in a state that already ranks low on that scale. Among the proposed changes are suggestions to reduce the state’s required number of credits for high school graduation from 24 to 21, lighten social studies requirements and liberalize the non-weighted course grading scale.

As expected, the perceived “dumbing down” of West Virginia’s education standards is not a wise idea for some.

“The appalling and rampant trend of anti-intellectualism in America got a significant boost from the West Virginia State Board of Education at its Nov. 7 meeting,” wrote Kay Goodwin, former W.Va. Secretary for Education and the Arts, in a letter to the Daily Mail Opinion page.

“Education should have a meaning to it,” Delegate George Ambler, R-Greenbrier, said during a legislative interim meeting on the changes. “That high school diploma should not be cheapened, and it seems to me … we’re cheapening it.”

In a world with an increasingly global economy, many argue that social studies, including history and world cultures, are more important than ever and should not be lightened.

But social studies is a subject no longer tested in West Virginia’s standardized achievement tests. So perhaps social studies credits have lower value to education officials concerned with higher standardized test scores.

The Board of Education is commended for being open to change, and the board and lawmakers should be working to allow more local control. But lowering achievement standards seems to be the wrong way to go about it.

Advancements in grade levels and a high school diploma need to be earned, not given.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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Dec. 11

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington on a bill to encourage a timely state audit:

West Virginia’s lawmakers are considering a step to prevent a repeat of a situation that caused some of the state’s public colleges and universities to face some financial duress this year.

The problem was created by state government’s failure for three years in a row to turn in important financial data to the federal government by the prescribed deadline. The information, called a Single Audit, is required to provide an annual accounting of federal dollars disbursed to the state. This year, the audit was due to the federal government by March 31. However, the state didn’t submit its report until nearly two months later.

Because the state had been late with the report for three consecutive years, the U.S. Department of Education decided to impose sanctions regarding the way federal funds for students’ Pell Grants and federally subsidized loans are distributed. Previously, the federal government would give the money for those student grants and loans directly to the institutions, after which the schools would distribute the money to students.

But the sanctions meant that the state’s public colleges and universities had to come up with money first, record how the money is distributed and seek reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Education sometime later. That change meant that West Virginia’s public colleges need to come up with $245 million within a month, causing some significant cash-flow problems for some of the state’s institutions.

Putting the annual Single Audit together on time requires that a variety of state agencies submit their information sufficiently in advance to meet the federal government’s deadlines. The delay this year apparently had to do with the Consolidated Public Retirement Board missing its deadlines for submitting the required pension data.

In hopes of ensuring the required audit is tendered in time in the future, legislation was presented to lawmakers at a Dec. 3 legislative interim meeting for consideration in the 2018 legislative session. The measure would require annual training to comply with the audit process, strengthen financial reporting requirements and impose penalties when agencies turn in information late, according to a report in the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

The penalty included in the bill is a fine of $100 each day that state agencies would have to pay if they turn in information after an Oct. 31 deadline, and the agencies couldn’t resort to using federal dollars to pay it. The emphasis on completing the audit on time, including paying a penalty, is a welcome step because there is really no excuse for not meeting the federal government deadline.

Of course, if that’s not enough incentive for agencies to report in a timely manner, there’s also the recourse that Gov. Jim Justice mentioned when word of the sanctions came out in July. He said at the time that “heads will roll” because of the tardy audit, although there’s been no word that anything like that happened.

However, firing those who can’t get the job done is an alternative that remains.

Online: http://www.herald-dispatch.com/

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Dec. 13

The Charleston Gazette on Affordable Care Act enrollments in West Virginia:

Has the Trump administration succeeded in confusing and distracting people out of their Affordable Care Act coverage? In West Virginia, at least, maybe.

As of last week, only 10,070 West Virginians had signed up for health insurance through the federal program at healthcare.gov. That’s 790, or about 7 percent, fewer than the same time last year.

Maybe it’s because the people who need it are already enrolled.

But as staff writer Erin Beck reported, people who help individuals find and sign up for plans have found plenty of confusion.

These helpers, called navigators, say some people had the mistaken impression that there was no longer a mandate to have qualifying health insurance or face a tax penalty. Some thought their subsidies had been eliminated.

Navigators also say people are more willing to sign up when the program is identified by its actual name, the Affordable Care Act, rather than the nickname Republicans stuck to it, “Obamacare.”

Policy experts were worried from the start that people would be left out because the Trump administration cut the advertising budget; cut money for staff who help people sign up, although not in West Virginia; and shortened the sign-up period - open enrollment ends Friday night. (People can enroll any time if they experience a significant event, such as losing other coverage.)

Across the country, however, enrollment is up.

West Virginia’s enrollment still might catch up to previous levels. People who want to keep their current plans are not required to do anything, although experts suggest shopping around for a better deal every year. Also, as several navigators pointed out, the last week tends to be busy, and older West Virginians tend to seek help in person, rather than sign up online.

Despite the intentional confusion and threats to the Affordable Care Act to disrupt markets and erode the people’s confidence, it’s still the law, and still the best shot many West Virginians have to get reasonably priced health insurance, the ticket to access in the American system.

Anyone with any doubt about whether they are getting the most economical coverage should check healthcare.gov before the deadline on Friday.

Online: https://www.wvgazettemail.com/

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