The Legislature can do one thing in the upcoming session to help West Virginia's children get a better education: Give county school systems more say in when the school year can begin and when it can end.
As it stands now, counties cannot begin classes before Aug. 26 and must end classes by June 8. At the same time, counties are required to make sure that students get 180 days of instruction each year. Given the school-year deadlines and the typical number of school days missed during a typical West Virginia winter, the 180-day requirement often goes unmet.
That's why the state Board of Education wants lawmakers to make a common-sense change to the school calendar: Allow counties to begin classes on July 1 and end classes on June 30.
Then there would be no problem ensuring that students are in school for 180 days. Counties that usually get the worst of winter -- Preston County, for example -- could start the school year early. Counties hit with an unexpected winter wallop could extend the school year. Either way, students would no longer be shortchanged because of the weather.
The state school board has made changing the school-calendar limits one of its legislative priorities for the 2004 session. The Legislature should make it a priority too. State lawmakers may not be able to do anything about West Virginia's winters, but they can do something to ensure a better education for West Virginia's children.