February 13, 2019

Two roads diverged

“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood. ...” So begins Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.”

Ever since ancient times, people have been fascinated by the power of crossroads. They have been the subject of poetry, song, myth and folklore.

Examples range from Robert Johnson’s classic blues song of the same name back to the days of ancient Greece, where they were sacred to Hermes, god of boundaries, borders and exchanges, and to Hecate, a witchy goddess associated both with magic and the home.

The image shows up in both the Hebrew Bible (Christian Old Testament) and the gospels. In Jeremiah 6:16, the prophet says, “Thus says the Lord: Stand at the crossroads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”

In Matthew 7:13-14, Jesus says “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

Metaphorically, I think most of us have come upon crossroads where a choice must be made that can have lifelong consequences.

I think West Virginia is at a major crossroads now, one that will have a lasting impact on its future. It has to do with the face we present to the world: will it be one of narrow-mindedness, fear, hatred and bigotry or one of openness, hospitality, solidarity and basic fairness?

Let’s just say that if the West Virginia Legislature is any indication, the jury is still out. We’ve had one delegate embarrass the state by comparing people who identify as LGBTQ to terrorists ... and worse.

The leadership of the majority Republican Party has condemned these remarks, yet they refuse to move legislation ending discrimination — and some have even attempted to pass legislation that would undo local anti-discrimination ordinances.

Still other lawmakers have sought bills that would keep out refugees and immigrants in a state largely composed of the descendants of refugees and immigrants that is also rapidly aging and losing population.

That kind of thing sends a message loud and clear both to young West Virginians who feel they have no place here and to other bright and energetic people who will think two or three times before moving here.

It discourages the kind of employers and investments that would provide good jobs while promoting a good quality of life.

That degree of closed-mindedness says that education isn’t valued here and that we are proud of what — and who — we don’t know.

That kind of thing sends a message that we should continue to be nothing but a sacrifice zone for extractive industries, whether they are those that take away our natural resources or those that strip-mine our public schools.

It doesn’t have to be that way. To paraphrase the last lines of Frost’s poem, we could take the road less traveled by, and that could make all the difference.

(This appeared as an op-ed in today's Charleston Gazette-Mail.)

February 12, 2019

Eye on the Ominous Omnibus education "reform" bill

I've been a bit under the weather lately so am behind on blogging the ups and downs of the Ominous Omnibus education "reform" bill in the WV legislature. Here's where I think we are:

SB 451, aka SB 666, passed the Senate 18-16 Feb. 4, with all Democrats and two Republicans voting against. It contained an infinity of charter schools, thousands of "education savings accounts" (ESAs) to siphon money away from public schools, anti-union "paycheck protection" measures, penalties for work stoppages and such. And a 5% raise for state workers. It was clearly an effort to punish teachers and school service workers for winning last year.

In the House education committee, amendments were made that took out some of the worst features, including paycheck, penalties, and ESAs. It limited charter schools to two.

Yesterday there were two public hearings at which teachers and parents vastly outnumbered  the out of state and astroturf bill supporters. I love it that one of the speakers against the bill compared charter schools to bedbugs. Bring two of them home and see how it goes...

THEN, the house finance committee apparently thought it was the REAL education committee and began putting more bad stuff back in the bill. THEN that failed and the earler, somewhat less bad, bill was sent to the floor, where it is now.

My friend and twitter critter Sean O'Leary of the WV Center on Budget and Policy dropped these gems during the process:

"Marathon public hearings, all night committee meetings, all for a bill that nobody but lobbyists want. Meanwhile, PEIA stuck with a band-aid of a one-year fix, with no permanent solution in sight."


"Lobbyists for charter schools and ESA's get called up to present to House Finance committee, while teachers and parents opposed get shuffled though a public hearing 70 seconds at a time."

It's still not clear what teachers and school service workers are going to do. I guess it depends on what goes down on the House floor...but we could be looking at an epic rematch. A rally in support of public education is planned for tomorrow at 6:30 on the riverside steps of the capitol.

And just to be clear, many teachers and school service workers are willing to give up a pay raise in order to kill a bill that threatens public education in this state.