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EDITORIAL Cooperative: Bill allows for the replacement of RESAs

The Inter-Mountain editorial

Public school systems throughout West Virginia will have to do without regional education service agencies if Gov. Jim Justice signs a bill sent to him Saturday night by the Legislature.

Or will they?

RESAs have served some county school districts well for many years. But the same story is not told throughout the state. RESAs have had strong opponents, who have tried for some time to eliminate them.

This year, the critics succeeded. Instead of improving problem RESAs, legislators approved a bill doing away with the entire system. Justice is expected to sign the measure into law.

But while the measure eliminates RESAs and the about $3.7 million a year in state funding they receive, it specifically empowers county school systems to set up a substitute. The state Department of Education is required to assist.

If signed into law, the bill would allow counties to band together in “educational services cooperatives” to provide much the same type of services available now through RESAs. The existing system handles a variety of services, ranging from bulk purchasing to save money, to specialists individual counties cannot afford.

It already has been suggested there is little difference between RESAs and the cooperatives authorized by the bill.

There is one glaring change, however. To our knowledge, the bill provides no funding mechanism for the new cooperatives. Presumably, that would be up to the state — which also would have authority over the cooperatives it did not enjoy with RESAs.

In some ways, the bill should be welcomed. In effect, it could allow counties such as those in our area to reconstitute agencies similar to RESAs. Doing so from scratch actually could result in a better finished product — provided adequate funding is available.

Officials in some counties that have relied on RESAs already are discussing how to replace them. They should be encouraged to set up cooperatives providing the same benefits and perhaps even new ones.

They should not be required to fund the cooperatives alone. State funding should be made available and legislators should monitor the state DOE to ensure that happens.

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