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Education group members backing 'Better Schools Bill'

by Gail Marsh

STAFF WRITER

Members of Challenge West Virginia went to Charleston last week to make local and state legislators more aware of their concerns for public education.

Their trip was planned to coincide with "Children's Day at the Legislature," according to Paul Hamrick, a Clarksburg resident and the organizer of the Harrison County Challenge West Virginia chapter.

"We were pleased to be able to talk with our legislators and we felt they took our concerns seriously," Hamrick said.

Challenge West Virginia is a statewide organization committed to reforming state policy to ensure that children get the best education possible, Hamrick said.

Group members believe the current state education policy, which has resulted in the closing of one-fourth of West Virginia's schools in the past 10 years, does not serve the best interest of many children, especially those from low-income families who live in rural areas.

"There are too many studies that show that children from poor socio-economic backgrounds who attend smaller neighborhood schools tend to do better academically, Hamrick said.

Challenge West Virginia members back the passage of a bill in the House (HB2051) and Senate (SB0062), referred to as "The Better Schools Bill."

That legislation would limit the time children are allowed to spend on school buses, and would also require the state School Building Authority to consider factors other than economies of scale when deciding to close a community school. Those factors include student health and safety, multi-county and regional planning and curriculum improvements.

The School Building Authority is the agency in charge of distributing money for new school projects throughout the state. The bill would give the House Rules Committee oversight of how the authority distributes the money.

Hamrick said his group gave Del. Jerry Mezzatesta (D-Hampshire), chair of the House Education Committee, a formal request for a public hearing on House Bill 2051.

The request for a hearing was also presented to Sen. Lloyd Jackson, (D-Lincoln), who is chair of the Senate Education Committee.

"Sen. Jackson said if the House agrees to hold a public hearing, then they would hold one in the Senate, too. We're looking forward to that opportunity," he said.

The local Challenge West Virginia chapter will meet again on Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. at the Cottage Corner Too Restaurant in Salem.

The public is welcome to attend, Hamrick said.

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