State senator meets with local homeschool families
SHENANDOAH JUNCTION — As West Virginia state legislators look ahead to a special session on education reform, Sen. Patricia Rucker is taking time to meet with constituents to discuss education needs within the state. Last week, the senator met with a group of homeschool families at Fellowship Bible Church in Shenandoah Junction.
Rucker, now chair of the Education Committee in the State Senate, was the lead sponsor on the education reform bill that was tabled following a nearly state-wide teacher walk-out earlier this year. Two of the bill’s main sticking points, Rucker said, involved allowing for charter schools and ESAs in the state. In addition to those two components, the bill also addressed class size, local board of education control, teacher salary increases and more.
“We did such a big bill because any bill goes through compromise,” Rucker said, before explaining the process in Charleston. “Committees from the start will change, add and amend so that it is not at all unusual that what you allegedly introduce is nothing like what you actually wrote.”
Rucker told those present she was looking for additional information before the special season begins.
“Homeschoolers are the most left out,” she said, mentioning she has homeschooled her children for the past 15 years, and wants to hear input from a growing community within the state. “I have also talked to union representatives, teachers, parents and boards of education across the state.”
According to Rucker, she believes the education system in West Virginia needs work. She said that of 50 states, 48 of them run their schools at a county level. West Virginia, as one of the remaining two, runs from Charleston. She held up a book encompassing Chapter 18 of the State Code filled with rules schools must follow from the state level.
“It’s so crazy,” she said. “To me this is insulting – what the state dictates to teachers. They should provide guidance, yes, standards, absolutely, but to have to ask permission to try anything new is crazy.”
Attendees asked questions of Tucker concerning any potential change to homeschooling.
“My biggest goal there is to not change things,” Rucker said. “Most of what people want to change in homeschooling are adding restrictions and I know I wouldn’t want that.”
Local resident LaTonya Page asked Rucker if West Virginia public schools plan to look at resources for either gifted or learning needs. She referenced the loss of such things as speech therapists for homeschool children, which had previously been provided through the public education system.
“It costs more money for any specialized program or special needs,” Rucker said. “There is also a teacher shortage just for core classes. It’s not that Jefferson County does not want to offer things, there is just not funding.”
Rucker then explained that the state’ funding formula is complicated.
“The per pupil amount is not based on learning disability or giftedness,” Rucker said. “All are treated the same and funded the same.”
According to Rucker, federal money for things like speech therapy and occupational therapy is awarded based on population, not school enrollment. However, she went on, the schools deny homeschool students the services funded by those federal dollars.
“The priority in West Virginia is only to take care of public schools,” Rucker said. “It should be to take care of all West Virginia kids, but the mindset is that you make your own choice to homeschool so you don’t get those benefits.”
Rucker took notes on topics covering everything from the proposed charter schools to sports for homeschoolers to possible tuition coverage to those who commit to teaching or working in rural parts of the state. She indicated the information she gathered will be shared with her colleagues, in hope that those in Charleston will be able to generate some reform.
Dates for the special session have not yet been finalized; however, the session will deal exclusively with education.