Over the past few weeks, Ted and I have looked at education in West Virginia, both as a reaction to the governor’s education audit, and the likelihood that education reform will be a major topic in the upcoming legislative session. First I broke down West Virginia’s education spending, and found that with a few exceptions, our per pupil spending levels aren’t all that out of line with the national average; and that the savings found in the education audit aren’t that significant, suggesting that despite the perception, maybe we aren’t that inefficient after all.
Then Ted looked at poverty and education, finding that childhood poverty is strongly associated with lower education outcomes, and that West Virginia’s high levels of poverty are likely a large factor in our poor education outcomes.
If we take these findings together, what do they mean for education reform? If we truly want to see better outcomes for our students, we need to look beyond the dollars, the efficiency audits, and the budgets and start looking at ways we can increase the economic health and security of our families, as well as ensuring all of our students have equal opportunities for success. Some of these ideas include:
1) Increase Economic Opportunities.
High unemployment, an unhealthy and aging workforce, and a stagnating middle class all create challenges for growth and prosperity in the state, and all play a role in keeping families and children in poverty. By turning our attention to these issues, we can address the major underlying source of our poor education outcomes. The WVCBP’s series, The State of Working West Virginia, contains many policy prescriptions to address these challenges.
2) Support Those Families in Poverty.
Research has shown that by simply supplementing the income of poor families, particularly through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), can significantly increase the scholastic achievement of their children. West Virginia can capitalize on this finding by creating a state EITC, building on the federal EITC, and help lift more families out of poverty.
Other research has shown that poor health and lack of health care associated with poverty also negatively impact educational outcomes. Continuing to support and protect access to healthcare, through SCHIP and expanding Medicaid, is also a key factor.
3) Invest in Out-of-School Activities.
Students spend a small fraction of their time in school. While year-round schooling addresses this issue, high-achieving students often are provided a rich set of opportunities for learning outside of school, either after school, on weekends or during the summer, with music lessons, travel, and camps. These activities matter, “not only because they are enriching in their own right but also because they provide experiential background useful for learning as children progress through school.”
However, the families of children in poverty often aren’t able to provide these activities for their children, and this puts them at a significant disadvantage to their peers. By exploring more after school and summer programs, as well as extended year programs, and early childhood education initiatives, West Virginia could find ways to improve learning and educational outcomes.