WV school funding woes increase

An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register 

WHEELING, W.Va. — Seemingly unable to come to agreement on a state budget based on what they thought they knew, West Virginia legislators may be facing a new fiscal headache. They should have seen it coming.

Having called lawmakers into a special session May 16 to deal with the budget, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin added something to the agenda last week. The Boone County school system needs an emergency appropriation of money, he explained. A bill providing $2.2 million for the current fiscal year was introduced.

So strapped for cash is that county’s school system that it may not be able to make payroll on June 24, officials say.

Don’t blame Boone County school officials. Instead, look at the crazy national energy policy under President Barack Obama that is closing coal mines throughout Appalachia. Two major producers operating Boone County mines have filed for bankruptcy protection. That means property tax receipts, on which schools in every county rely, have taken a nosedive.

By the time they left the Capitol Thursday, lawmakers had not acted on the supplemental appropriation. One obstacle, said state Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, is that legislators in some other counties facing fiscal challenges are asking why their schools cannot get special appropriations, too. Stollings called the requests “the Christmas tree effect.”

To date, no other county has sought such help from the Legislature – though more may do so in the future. The collapsing coal industry will hurt finances in several southern counties. In crafting a new budget, lawmakers should keep that in mind.

In the meantime, they should provide the money for Boone County. Officials of relatively well-financed schools in the Northern Panhandle may want to consider supporting such action, as their counterparts in some other counties already have done. Who can say? At some point, our counties may need – and deserve – emergency help, too.

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