Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Intelligencer on youth homelessness:
Try to remember what it was like to go to bed at night after having finished your homework, or to wake up in the morning and join the family rush to get ready and get out the door to school. Think about having friends over. Think about knowing you had the same safe place to come home to each day after school; and that the routine would most likely be the same the next day, and the day after that …
Too many West Virginia kids do not have that experience. In fact, according to a WV KIDS COUNT issue brief released this week, there were 10,417 youth classified as homeless during the 2019-20 school year.
That is an increase of 14% from the 2014-15 school year. For the purposes of the report, homelessness is defined as a child’s nighttime residence being sheltered, doubled up, unsheltered or hotel/motel.
WV KIDS COUNT partnered with the state Department of Education in an effort to get communities engaged in tackling the problem. We know our local communities have focused generally on the problem of homelessness, but the challenges for kids in that situation require their own solutions.
“Poverty, grandparents raising grandchildren, the opioid epidemic, lack of affordable housing, and living through a pandemic are some of the factors that impact homelessness. Children who are homeless typically face adverse events before they even enter school. Imagine what getting ready for school looks and feels like. This is compounded by research that says children who experience Adverse Childhood Experiences are statistically more likely to experience lifelong negative effects on physical and mental health,” said Tricia Kingery, WV KIDS COUNT executive director. Lawmakers, community officials, churches, nonprofit organizations and of course the school system must renew efforts to find funding and provide the help these kids –and their families –need to stay on track.
If we can make a difference for these kids now, we will make a difference for the rest of their lives.
The Register-Herald on House Delegate John Mandt and his opposition to an antidiscrimination bill:
Part of the Republican plan to rejuvenate the state as it emerges from the economic and social devastation of a yearlong pandemic is to grow the population by cutting income taxes to zero. The conservatives at the Capitol believe that as soon as the state eliminates its personal income tax, a population boom is soon to follow.
Ignore decades-long demographics trends at your own risk, but the Republican pitch is a fanciful and simple-minded notion that exists only in theory and is absent any hard data to prove its point. Besides, government takes money in the form of tax dollars to provide services. If personal income taxes are taken off the table, then some other tax is going to have to foot the bill. It’s all just a shell game, really.
What seems to escape the Republican thinking about how to make a more attractive state – for those on the outside taking a look and for our own youth who may be looking to leave – is a big, fat, hairy wart right there on the tip of our state’s nose, and it gives us all a bad look: bigotry.
Unfortunately, it’s rearing its head again under the golden dome of the Capitol building.
House Delegate John Mandt, a Republican lawmaker who resigned last fall after posting an anti-gay slur but then was re-elected, is drawing fresh criticism, as well he should, for an extended online post opposing protections against a proposed Fairness Act – an antidiscrimination bill based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
In a now-deleted Facebook post, Mandt said that he opposed the Fairness Act because “Oftentimes evil cloaks itself in pleasant sounding terms, and that is exactly what the Fairness Act does.”
Mandt said the proposal falsely claims to be a civil rights bill about fairness in employment and housing and forces people of faith into a position where they must choose between faith or unjust government persecution.
And, of course, none of that is true.
But that didn’t keep Mandt from frothing at his social media mouth and exposing his ignorance.
He, the self-anointed arbiter of what constitutes acceptable behavior, said, “every person deserves to be treated with dignity, but not all behavior is dignified.”
While the proposal “ignores biology,” he wrote, “it favors gender-confused males and it places our state’s women and girls in harm’s way, especially in intimate spaces previously reserved for females.”
What Mandt, R-Cabell, is rallying hard against is essentially a statewide nondiscrimination act similar to what city councils in Lewisburg and Beckley passed a few years ago that have provided civil rights protections for members of the LGBTQ comunity.
The bill would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing and public spaces. Similar protections exist in 22 states and the District of Columbia.
For the record, there have been no police reports of any women or young girls being accosted in a public bathroom by a transgender man in either of those southern West Virginia cities, but that was the fear made from whole cloth and given voice during debate.
And now we are hearing again – this time from Mandt.
But he is not new to his own three-ring circus. Last fall, while running for elected office, he shared posts circulated by a group called The “Right” Stuff. Members are identified only by first name, but profile pictures clearly identified Mandt.
The group uses anti-gay and anti-Muslim language, anti-gay slurs and other disparaging remarks about other delegates, other candidates, the president of the Senate and the mayor of Huntington, according to reporting by the Huntington Herald-Dispatch.
Similar problem posts were made back in 2019.
If the Republicans in Charleston were serious about taking steps to make the state more attractive to outsiders, they would deal with one of their own more firmly, kicking him off committee assignments and letting him know in no uncertain terms that his cancerous attitudes do not reflect what the Republican Party or the people of West Virginia stand for.
Simply put, remove the wart.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail on potential bills involving charter schools, education savings accounts and strike prohibitions:
While most of the attention going into the 2021 legislative session has been on a plan to eliminate West Virginia’s state income tax, bills to establish up to 10 charter schools every three years and creating education savings accounts went quickly out of the gate on Thursday.
Both shot straight through the House Education Committee and are on their way to the floor.
Charter schools and education savings accounts were part of a highly controversial and massive omnibus education bill championed by former Republican Senate President Mitch Carmichael during the 2019 session. Contention over the bill ultimately led to a second teacher and school service personnel strike in as many years. The omnibus bill failed, but another version passed in a special session that same year allowed for the creation of three charter schools in the state.
Establishing ESAs was brought back in a separate bill, which again failed.
The issue was dormant in 2020, mainly because it was an election year. Now that the GOP has a supermajority in the Legislature, ESAs and charter schools are back with a vengeance.
Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, has introduced a bill that would allow school districts to fire teachers for going on strike. A clause in the 2019 special session bill allowing the same thing was removed.
Rucker was placed at the head of the Education Committee in 2019 by Carmichael because she was a proponent of charter schools and ESAs. Opponents note that charter schools are not held to the same standard of curriculum or teaching qualifications, while ESAs allow public money to be put into savings accounts for children to attend private schools or to fund homeschooling.
The two measures arguably also would weaken the teachers’ unions, which the GOP has been trying to do for some time. Rucker’s anti-strike legislation is an even more direct attempt at just that. While it seems impractical to fire every teacher who participates in a statewide strike, the legislation, if it became law, might be used to target specific teachers, especially those with strong union ties. That bill had yet to be discussed in committee, as of Friday morning.
Rucker and others are clearly emboldened by the results of the November election, but these bills heading for the House floor are anything but a done deal.
Yes, the teachers’ unions are affiliated with the Democratic Party, and yes, the Democrats are heavily outnumbered. But they also were in the minority in 2019. Sinking the omnibus bill and passing numerous amendments to its replacement was the result of a significant number of Republicans opposing parts of both bills.
Carmichael’s persistence in getting parts of the legislation through while turning a deaf ear to teachers of various political persuasions effectively ended his career in the Senate. He lost in the primary last year.
Public school teachers vote. And they vote not by party, but on policies that affect them and their students. They remember the legislators attached to those policies. Many Republican legislators will be thinking of that when these issues are debated in the House and, if passing there, the Senate.
Gov. Jim Justice has been on a bit of an anti-union kick lately, as it related to reopening schools during the pandemic, but he’s listened to the teachers more than anyone when these types of bills have worked through the Legislature. Carmichael is a member of the governor’s Cabinet now, so that might change things. It’s still not a foregone conclusion that the bills will become law without heavy modifications.
In the meantime, Rucker might want to beware. A revenge tour might feel good, but the voters — particularly teachers — almost always get the final say.