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Lawmakers should have spent more time on K-12 education

If members of the West Virginia Legislature would spend even half the time dealing with problems of education in grades K-12 as they are with trying to separate community colleges from state colleges and universities (Senate Bill 653), we feel confident there would be fewer problems in the county school systems in this state.

For now, it seems as though the only K-12 issue that is receiving much attention at all is House Bill 4779, which is intended to ensure that public school students receive the 180 instructional days mandated in the State Code.

In fact, it is our belief that matters involving public schools should have been given the highest priority of all in this, the 75th session of the Legislature.

We are not blaming the defeat of school bonds in Marion and Monongalia counties last weekend on the lawmakers. However, we do feel that if the problem of school buildings in West Virginia, for instance, had been addressed more effectively by delegates and senators, then maybe voters would have had greater incentive to support the bond issues, as Lewis County voters did recently.

In the Senate, members Thursday evening worked frantically to report the higher education bill to the floor from the Finance Committee. Those sections of the measure calling for the administrative separation of component community colleges from parent four-year colleges are strongly opposed by Fairmont State College administrators and Senators Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, and Michael Oliverio, D-Monongalia. They contend that separation would disrupt the integration of FSC's two- and four-year degree programs.

Following last weekend's defeat of the school bond in Monongalia County, Nancy Walker -- she is vice president of the school board in that county -- urged lawmakers to address the school buildings problem.

"We need to look at the State Code and see if there's a different source of funding. We seem to be unable to come up with bond plans that voters consistently want to support."

We can certainly understand her concern. The county systems are simply not able to solve the problem by themselves. As the legislative session nears an end, what will it take to pry senators and delegates away from putting a majority of their "eggs" in the higher education "basket"?

To our way of thinking, divorcing community colleges from four-year colleges is a bad idea, anyway. There is much greater need for attention to be paid to the myriad of problems in the individual county school systems. Time is tight, without a doubt. But the session does not end until the gavel raps.

But even if there is to be no action taken by the august body this term, delegates and senators should be forewarned that the K-12 education problems must be placed on the "front burner," and the sooner the better. After all, without a strong K-12 system in place throughout the state, community colleges -- whether tied to four-year institutions or separate entities -- would indeed be a moot point.

Today's editorial reflects the opinion of the Exponent and Telegram editorial boards.

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