Investing in the Future

By: PUBLIUS, Mountaineer News Contributor Posted: March 11, 2020 | 04:59PM EST

Election cycle after election cycle, candidates for the House of Delegates and Senate campaign relentlessly. Each wants to demonstrate that they are worthy of going to Charleston to further the best interests of West Virginia and their constituencies.

Things go reasonably well until the state’s business is heard during the legislative session. At this time the rubber hits the road so to speak and Our Elected Representatives address the needs of the state, carefully balancing resources and allocating them based on a careful assessment of what the areas of need are.

At least, that is what is supposed to happen, and to be fair there are some delegates/ Senators who actually try to do this. They are an appreciated minority group, however, being a minority group means that the majority evaluates needs and resource allocation. They follow a much different algorithm when allocating funds.

Most observers, casual and otherwise, would agree that our public education needs are great. Students are arriving in our school buildings unprepared and unsupported. Support staff, particularly counselors and school psychologists, have been cut to the barest minimums. Physical plant improvements are talked about but rarely happen. Teachers struggle to make ends meet on their salaries and the state has approximately 600 open positions spread over its 55 Counties.

As a result, West Virginia ranks at or near the bottom in state rankings of student success. Even our vaunted Graduation Rate gets an asterisk as graduation requirements have been weakened over the past 10 years and were nearly reduced again this session.

In the face of all of this we look to the legislature for help. In response, the legislature chose this year to continue to direct $17 million in state subsidies to support dog racing at Wheeling Island and the Mardi Gras Casino. Legal in 10 states, dog racing is active in 6 with only West Virginia having two active tracks. Popular support for a “sport” that injures/kills numerous animals each year is declining. More and more states are outlawing dog racing. Dogs that are retired and cannot be adopted out are euthanized, and, even with the support received revenues at the West Virginia tracks are declining.

Faced with these facts and the legitimate crisis faced by our children and the lack of resources in public education to meet the crisis, the bipartisan action of the legislature was to continue to send the $17 million to the racetracks.

In my own opinion, the $17 million is a drop in the bucket compared to what is needed in education. It would be a very welcome drop in that bucket though and couldn’t arrive a moment too soon to support our children.

We need to ask how supporting a dying “sport” – literally throwing good money after bad – could take priority over our students.