May 7, 2019
Charleston, W.Va. – The West Virginia Department of Education (WVDE) released the West Virginia’s Voice final report today concluding a two-month process to gather input from stakeholders on education advancement in the state. The report represents concerns, opinions and reflections from those who participated in the process through the eight education forums and online surveys. While not exhaustive, the document does serve as a guide to support local school districts, educators, service personnel, students and the greater community in an effort improve education performance and outcomes.
West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Dr. Steven Paine called for the thorough gathering of public input to allow all West Virginians the opportunity to participate in the process to inform ongoing discussions about education betterment. The WVDE hosted forums at Berkeley Springs, Cabell Midland, Capital, Mount View, Robert C. Byrd, Wheeling Park, and Woodrow Wilson high schools, as well as Blennerhassett Middle School over the course of three weeks. Additionally, the WVDE provided online surveys for educators; families and community members; students; principals; and the business community to open access to those unable to attend the forums.
“As the state’s lead education agency, it was important to provide venues for rich, thought-provoking discussion on this important topic,” Paine said. “At every location attendees were engaged and informed, and they expressed real gratitude that we came to their communities, listened to them and allowed their voices to be heard. I hope this report is used as the basis of any legislation that comes out of the special legislative session.”
While discussions and surveys were organized into specific topics, participants were able to provide comments on any educational issue that was of concern to them. The result was more than 20,000 responses (in-person and online) from students, families and caregivers, community members, educators and school support staff, higher education representatives, advocacy groups and others.
Feedback from the forums and stakeholder input resulted in four top priorities that provide guidance moving forward. These include providing a pay raise to all school employees; increasing funding for social emotional supports with local flexibility; incentivizing high-performing schools with additional flexibility; and funding supplements to strengthen teachers’ skills in shortage areas with an initial focus on math.
School choice was among the most popular topics at each forum and participants shared similar concerns across the state regarding both charter schools and Education Savings Accounts (ESAs). While 88 percent of forum attendees were opposed to both, most people want county districts, schools and local educators to have more flexibility in determining how to best serve and educate their students. Some areas experiencing greater economic growth said creating avenues to quickly supply burgeoning sectors with employees requires greater attention. There was also overwhelming support throughout the state for Innovation Zones with a less restrictive application processes. The report recommends specific steps that address important issues of oversight, compliance, operations and others if legislators move to implement charter schools.
“The input proves that West Virginians value education and are vested in making sure it prepares our students for existing opportunities and those on the horizon,” Paine said. “West Virginia classrooms have much to celebrate, but we must continue to strive for improved student achievement.”
The complete report is available online at www.wvde.us/edvoices along with aggregate data, executive reports and other supporting documentation.