Charleston Gazette-Mail. August 27, 2023.
Editorial: The latest salvo in the anti-education movement
West Virginia Senate Finance Committee Chairman Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, recently lashed out at the American Federation of Teachers, calling its members “socialists” after the AFT had criticized proposed program and faculty cuts at West Virginia University.
Socialists? Really? For criticizing a plan that would eliminate all foreign language courses at WVU, along with post-graduate math programs, other courses and cut about 170 teachers?
Tarr’s tantrum is the latest salvo in a battle against public education from the political right that goes back a long way, but has intensified over the past five years.
West Virginia public school teachers and service personnel were credited with starting a national movement in 2018, when their statewide strike over a collapsing insurance system and dismal pay sparked similar action in other states across the country. Teachers went back to work after securing a 5% pay raise and a since-broken promise from Gov. Jim Justice to fix the Public Employees Insurance Agency.
In reality, two movements were born over the course of that nine-day strike. After being humiliated in their opposition to teachers wanting competitive wages and decent health care, the West Virginia Republican Party began a long-term, retaliatory siege against public education and teacher unions.
In 2019, after Republican legislators who opposed the strike spent much of the 2018 election cycle talking up another teacher pay raise, the GOP pulled a bait-and-switch. Republican legislators made the raise contingent on creating charter schools and a voucher system that would divert public school funding for students to attend private schools or home schools. So, for the second year in a row, teachers went on strike, this time in opposition to getting more money, because the legislation tied to the raise was so bad. A second strike in as many years eroded some of the public sympathy for teachers.
Around that same time, West Virginia Republicans started using the word “socialism” a lot, trying to forge a correlation between the word and anything the GOP didn’t like — public education, unions and energy production that didn’t involve burning rocks or fracking for gas were frequent targets.
It took a few years, but Republicans eventually got what they wanted in the form of a charter school bill so loose that even charter school lobbyists wouldn’t back it, and a “scholarship” that doles out massive amounts of public money for children to go somewhere other than a public school.
Before and during all of this, the GOP-controlled Legislature also was slashing state funding for higher education. That Republicans would delight in WVU’s $45 million shortfall and extreme plan to fix it defies common sense. But it’s all perfectly rational to an immature group of politicians who focused on their hurt feelings and wounded image after the teacher strikes, rather than the root of the problem, and settled on revenge against public education, instead of rebuilding it.
Tarr has applauded WVU’s decision to cut programs and faculty, citing university bloat as the problem, rather than declining enrollment at a university in a state that Tarr and his fellow lawmakers have made less and less appealing over the years (don’t forget it was Tarr who said he’d let an orphanage burn with all the children inside if he could only save a few, an odd analogy he pulled out because he didn’t think the new state law that bans abortion in all but the rarest of circumstances was brutal enough).
But his true feelings show through in his response to the AFT’s comments on the situation at WVU. Higher education is too liberal. College educators are really indocrinators. The AFT, in Tarr’s mind, is worried that other universities will stop “unbridled spending” after seeing what WVU has done.
“West Virginia has had enough of the AFT and (the National Education Association) social agenda influencing education policy,” Tarr wrote.
All the AFT or NEA really do is try to make sure teachers are fairly paid and free to teach, efforts badly needed in a state like West Virginia, where those simple concepts are far from established.
There’s no room for that in Tarr’s West Virginia, where women are second-class citizens, education is evil and the political and business elites make enough money that they can ignore the consequences of their actions.
Herald-Dispatch. August 26, 2023.
Editorial: WV regulators must prepare now for possible nuclear power projects
Along 10 miles or more of a West Virginia mountain ridge in Tucker and Preston counties is the Mountaineer Wind Energy Center wind farm. As the wind blows and spins the blades, the 44 turbines produce enough clean renewable electricity to supply 20,000 homes.
Last year, the wind farm produced about 1.1% as much power as the coal-burning John E. Amos Power Plant in Putnam County.
Renewables have their place in power production, but the technology now in use can’t reliably supply the 24/7 baseload requirements of a grid that has ever-increasing demands for electricity.
That’s why nuclear is making a comeback.
Nuclear power had been on the way out after accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, but as coal-burning plants are being retired and renewables are unable to keep up with demand, something has to be done. The development of smaller reactors using more modern technology than old plants has given nuclear power a foot in the door that a dozen years ago had been thought to be closed.
Even in Texas, which is rich in fossil fuels, nuclear power is being considered as a way to prevent grid reliability problems that have plagued the state in recent years. Earlier this month, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Public Utilities Commission of Texas to begin working on a plan to make that state “the national leader on advanced nuclear energy.” His order directs a working group to consider all financial incentives that are available to nuclear power projects, identify any federal or state regulatory hurdles to development and to analyze how the state can streamline and accelerate the permit process for advanced nuclear reactors.
A few days after Abbott issued his order, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., announced the release of a Government Accountability Office she and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., had requested. The report is titled “Nuclear Power: NRC Needs to Take Additional Actions to Prepare to License Advanced Reactors” and says, among other things, that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not have the resources to deal with the number of applications that are likely to come soon for the deployment of small modular nuclear reactors.
As coal-burning plants are phased out in developed nations — and they will be, despite efforts of the coal industry and its supporters to keep them going as long as possible — something has to replace them. Nuclear power is one option.
Abbott’s directive and the GAO report point to the need for regulators in West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and other states to prepare for the likely growth of nuclear power if the development of small modular reactors proceeds as planned. That development is not guaranteed any more than the growth of battery storage capacity for electricity produced by renewables, but it is something that must be planned for. Coal supporters might not like it and they may try to block it, but it must be done.
The Intelligencer. August 29, 2023.
Editorial: Transparency Vital at WVSP
As the threat of hundreds of lawsuits looms, West Virginia State Police Superintendent Col. Jack Chambers is staying true to his word to be transparent during investigations into the department with a new report.
Federal investigators are now looking into the hidden camera in the women’s locker room at the WVSP academy and the possible destruction of a storage device that allegedly contained footage from the camera. Meanwhile, Chambers has issued an apology to “any female victimized by the hidden camera in the WVSP Academy locker room.” The report also says the department is working with the Department of Homeland Security and Marshall University to use the university’s Health Line for any women who believe they have been victimized.
Chambers gave an update on the dropping of a domestic violence protection order against “whistleblower” former Cpl. James Comer, but said Comer still faces charges in the matter in Ritchie County.
Federal investigators are still looking into allegations of sexual assault two women in Logan County brought against a trooper; and civil actions have been filed. They are also looking into the death of a man hit by a trooper’s Taser during a struggle along I-81 in February.
With all that going on, Chambers’ report says steps have been made to improve oversite at the WVSP. Civil rights training is underway.
But the improvements include personnel changes, too. Four troopers have been “separated from employment due to the recognition of failing to meet the standards and expectations of the WVSP,” according to the report. There have been “staffing changes” at the WVSP academy.
Good. The report contains a lot of information for West Virginians to digest, but such thorough transparency is necessary.
It appears Chambers is off to a good start as he is cemented in his leadership of the WVSP. But the reward for a job well done is more work, and he must continue such efforts.