Three years ago this week, Gov. Jim Justice closed all schools in West Virginia in response to the threat of COVID-19. What may have seemed to be a logical response to the spread of an unfamiliar disease became an educational disaster for many of the state’s children.
The school shutdowns dragged on longer than they should have. This past October, word came that fourth- and eighth-graders in West Virginia scored record lows on the U.S. Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress. Years of progress were wiped out during the school closures.
Since schools re-opened fully, educators have tried to bring students back up to speed on reading, arithmetic and other subjects. But now West Virginia schools have another COVID-related challenge — COVID relief money that has been used to pay employees is going away.
According to a report from the West Virginia Department of Education’s Office of Federal Programs, 31% of $414 million in temporary federal COVID-19 relief money spent by county school districts through June 2022 was used to fund 1,723 full-time staff positions either in part or entirely.
As reported by HD Media’s Josh Ewers, three congressional acts provided the funding for those positions. The last of the two that remain in effect expires Sept. 30, 2024. At last week’s state Board of Education meeting, officials said the end of that funding could exacerbate an ongoing staff shortage in West Virginia schools.
Laura Pauley, the Department of Education’s Office of Federal Programs director, and Board of Education Vice President Nancy White said the positions in question are largely support positions, including intervention specialists, counselors, social workers, cooks and maintenance workers.
“We are heading for a cliff, and we have advised districts (that) next personnel season is probably not going to be pretty because, unless they can find other funding to sustain these positions, they will have to think about eliminating those positions,” Pauley said.
West Virginia School Board Association President Jim Brown warned of another financial problem county boards will face soon — an increase in county boards’ 2024 liability insurance premiums through the Board of Risk Management and Insurance.
“What I’m sure not everyone is aware (of) is the level of impact this increase will have on districts’ fiscal year 2024 budgets,” said Brown. “The leadership from BRIM has held fast to their belief (that) the premium increases could range from 150% to 250%.”
Letters are going out or will go out soon to all 55 county boards of education in the state. Boards will likely ask the governor and the Legislature to provide some relief. However, the same week this warning of potential financial difficulty came out, the governor and legislators had a big balloon drop to celebrate a tax reduction package that could cost the state treasury about $700 million a year.
This month or next, people in the 55 counties should learn how the cuts in school funding and the tax reduction package will affect public schools. It’s not as if West Virginia’s public education system has plenty of fat to trim. Some cost reductions are available, but the effort to provide a thorough and efficient public school system as required by the state constitution is about to face some challenges.
Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd,
racist or sexually-oriented language. PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK. Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another
person will not be tolerated. Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone
or anything. Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism
that is degrading to another person. Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on
each comment to let us know of abusive posts. Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness
accounts, the history behind an article.