West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel on West Virginia’s poor performance in child wellbeing in a new report:
Each year, the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Data Book creates a snapshot of how well we are doing in taking care of the next generation as it grows. Often the report on the wellbeing of children in West Virginia is disheartening. In fact, again this year, the Mountain State ranks near the bottom — 43rd for child wellbeing.
That poor performance comes despite West Virginia having shown improvement in three of the four areas studied: health, education, economic wellbeing and family and community. In terms of economic wellbeing, our kids are still struggling at 48th in the nation, down a spot from last year. Only Mississippi, Louisiana and New Mexico are worse. More than 25 percent of West Virginia kids live in families with incomes below the federal poverty line; the number of them living in high-poverty areas or in single-parent homes is increasing.
One interesting tidbit from the report: West Virginia has one of the LOWEST rates of uninsured children in the country. But in an important reminder that health insurance does not equal health care, the Annie E. Casey Foundation notes:
“Unfortunately, providing children with insurance alone is not enough to improve health outcomes in the state. It’s up to policymakers and advocates to ensure that barriers to receiving care are reduced.”
Our children are not any healthier because they are covered by insurance.
So far as our communities go, the authors of the report had another concern. Approximately 26% of West Virginia children under the age of five live in regions deemed “hard to count.” That is, those responsible for noting them during the 2020 census may have a difficult time of it. That could lead to problems in receiving enough of the kind of federal funding that helps bring Head Start and Children’s Health Insurance programs to kids across the country.
Lawmakers are flailing right now as they try to come up with the right plan for education in our state. (In this report, West Virginia ranks 43rd in the nation). Families are fighting to overcome the economic doldrums, which have become nearly generational, at this point, and are leading to the hopelessness that has fueled the substance abuse epidemic in our state.
Business as usual and an immensely unhealthy attachment to the way things have always been have not lost their grip on Charleston and that is a crying shame. Year after year, reports like this one show us how much our children are suffering because of it. Something must change.
The Charleston Gazette-Mail on a political dispute between Gov. Jim Justice and Senate President Mitch Carmichael:
Over the weekend, a report from The Associated Press noted that West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, were locked in battle to prove who is more beloved by the Trump administration.
It is one of the more odd elements of the recent chaos surrounding Justice’s campaign for reelection and his clashing with Carmichael over the “Student Success Act,” a massive and controversial education reform bill that has been the main topic of the ongoing special legislative session.
At a recent campaign event, the governor said President Donald Trump is only interested in West Virginia because of him, and, were anyone else to hold the state’s top office, the president would no longer have any reason to provide federal help to state initiatives. He later released a statement saying he and Trump are “bound at the hip.”
Carmichael, meanwhile, has latched on to a tweet from U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos touting state legislation that would provide public money for charter schools and education savings accounts. Justice has claimed DeVos got ahead of herself by making the remark, and that Trump doesn’t endorse his education secretary’s opinion.
It’s been a lot to take in, but it shows us that both leaders are missing the broader point, which is whether the legislation is good for West Virginia education. Of course, both have made the argument that it is or isn’t, but the fixation on the administration’s opinion is discouraging.
As for the legislation itself, there is so much in the bills that came out of the Senate’s special session that it’s impossible to label it uniformly. Some aspects, like teacher pay raises, are good. Some, like not putting a cap on charter schools and a vengeful allowance to punish public school employees for striking, are bad.
The only thing that is universal here is that the bill is too big, and the issues should all be looked at separately. Trying to reach a compromise on one issue will sink all of the rest. It’s the same problem that dogged virtually identical legislation back in the regular session.
It’s easy to see why Justice and Carmichael would want to present their stance as Trump-approved. The president won by a huge margin in West Virginia in 2016.
But, while teacher unions are more politically aligned with the Democratic Party, public school teachers, parents and students are of all political stripes, and a majority are unified in their disdain for the bill and GOP leadership’s refusal to listen to them.
Maybe charter schools, in a more limited capacity, could be beneficial to West Virginia children. But that isn’t why Justice or Carmichael would or wouldn’t support them. It’s more evident than ever that this entire argument is about political influence and securing power.
Both should tread carefully. Justice should know no one is attached to Trump’s hip. The president’s “friends” are frequently discarded in the name of political expediency. The insistence that the president is only interested in the state because of Justice, while disturbingly egocentric, could be true, but who wants the help of a president or a governor who thinks that way? DeVos, meanwhile, is a certified proponent of privatizing public education, but Trump could turn on her on a whim, leaving Carmichael out in the cold (In fact, Trump tweeted Monday that he supported “Big Jim” and West Virginia schools, although the latter was mentioned vaguely enough to leave some wiggle room).
We’d urge both Justice and Carmichael to disregard what the Trump administration or outside conservative groups think of education in West Virginia. After all, isn’t outsider influence bad? Or is that argument only valid if the issue in question cuts against the grain of the GOP manual?
The Herald-Dispatch on a program helping children born addicted to drugs:
At one child care center in Huntington, lights are dim, sounds are soft and fragrances are kept to a minimum. That’s because these are triggers that evoke strong reactions from the infants and toddlers inside.
River Valley CARES in Huntington’s West End opened in May to help children aged 6 months to 2 years who were exposed to drugs while in their mothers’ wombs. They are the youngest and most innocent victims of the misuse of drugs in the area.
Children are divided into two classrooms of eight so that there are no more than three children per staff person. The center opened in May with six children.
In the room where children sleep and spend much of their time, the only light is sunlight coming through slits in blinds. Soft lullabies play in the background. Adults refrain from using lotions or perfumes.
Janie Fuller, executive director of River Valley Child Development Services, told The Herald-Dispatch reporter Bishop Nash that all of the first group of six have sensory issues with light, sound and smells. All six of the first group was exposed to drugs in utero, Fuller said: two with methamphetamine, two with heroin, one with marijuana and another with Xanax.
It’s a program that could be duplicated elsewhere in West Virginia if the money can be found, and it should. Drug treatment has traditionally lagged behind treatment of other disorders, and it has focused on getting addicts sober. Children of addicts have been a secondary or tertiary concern. As RV CARES shows, that’s changing.
RV CARES is entirely grant funded, chiefly from a $10,000 per child allotment through state funding. Ultimately, the center will fan out with broader services to include family support classes and evening hours. Building a good relationship with the whole family, rather than simply being an outlet for child care, is key to repairing those broken units, Fuller said.
“The center of everything we do here and every decision we make is that child and what that child needs, and then we work on everything around it,” Fuller said. “That will ultimately cause a ripple effect into the families as a whole.”
RV CARES is not the first facility dedicated to helping small children who have been harmed by a parent’s drug use. Cabell Huntington Hospital was the first hospital in West Virginia to establish a unit, its Neonatal Therapeutic Unit, dedicated to the treatment of babies born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome. Later, Lily’s Place was established in Huntington.
The problem could be duplicating facilities such as River Valley CARES in communities smaller than the Huntington area. Most communities in West Virginia, southern Ohio and eastern Kentucky fit that description.
People running for office like to talk about cutting the fat out of government and eliminating fraud and waste. That’s a good idea, and once the frivolous spending is reduced, let’s do something good with the money and put it toward these helpless, innocent victims of the drug epidemic so we can begin to heal the generation that’s been harmed the most.
We’re into at least the second generation of these children. We have to stop it before it hits the third or fourth.