West Virginia editorial roundup
Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Herald-Dispatch on companies sharing safety records:
Simply the passage of time shouldn’t wipe out the lessons learned from a tragic disaster, such as the 2010 explosion at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch mine that killed 29 miners.
That’s why it’s somewhat disconcerting that some members of Congress, including West Virginia’s three U.S. House members, have voted to cut the budget for the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration, which is responsible for enforcing rules pertaining to mine safety and health. Let’s trust that any budget reductions won’t cut so deep as to seriously impair efforts to keep miners safe and to combat the health issues that often arise.
There’s also an effort by U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, a Republican who represents West Virginia’s Second Congressional District, to take a step back on another factor that became an issue after the Upper Big Branch tragedy. And that’s for mining companies to be forthcoming to their investors regarding their safety performance.
Mooney has introduced legislation that would repeal a rule added to federal securities law after Upper Big Branch. That rule required publicly traded companies to include details about mining company safety violation and worker deaths in their regular financial disclosures to investors.
The impetus for that rule came as investors of Massey Energy complained that the company had misled shareholders by boasting about its commitment to safety while its mines had hundreds of safety violations. That, they argued, caused investors to lose money when stock prices dropped after the Shareholders, led by Massachusetts’ state pension fund, claimed Massey Energy Co. violated federal securities laws by trumpeting its commitment to safety while its mines had hundreds of safety violations and caused investors to lose money when stock prices fell after the explosion. Alpha Natural Resources, the company that later purchased Massey Energy and in doing so inherited the lawsuit, eventually settling it for $265 million.
Mooney characterized his repeal bill as “one part of our ongoing efforts to revitalize the coal industry and bring jobs back to West Virginia,” itself a noble goal. He said it would eliminate, in a “small, but significant way” duplicative paperwork.
However, it’s difficult to imagine that ending this reporting requirement will make much impact on mining companies’ bottom lines. Any responsibly run company would have the safety violation and worker-death information on hand, and that could fairly easily be incorporated into relevant disclosures to investors. And keeping the requirement on the books also should serve as another way to encourage companies to keep worker safety and health top of mind.
For the sake of miners as well as the investors, this proposal should be rejected.
The Journal on improving literacy:
To say literacy is important is an understatement; it is key to all learning.
Berkeley County schools recently spoke about their endeavors to make literacy a top priority. We applaud their effort, but we also know that school is not the only place such work needs to take place. The most important factor in a child’s education is family involvement. Reading is the most effective way to open up a new world to a child - and not just from the story on the page. Reading is a building block to all other academic success - and success later in life.
“Literacy is one of the most important parts of education,” said Margaret Kursey, deputy superintendent of Berkeley County Schools, in a Journal article last week. “Without literacy, all other learning is difficult. Literacy involves us using reading, writing, speaking and listening to gain more knowledge - it is really essential for learning.”
Literacy rates in West Virginia could use some improvement - for both adults and children. According to Literacy Volunteers of Monongalia and Preston Counties, 20 percent of West Virginians struggle with low literacy levels. Seventy-three percent of third-graders in West Virginia read below grade level, LVMPC indicates.
In the Eastern Panhandle, 14 to 15 percent of the adult population is unable to read above a fourth-grade reading level, Literacy Volunteers of the Eastern Panhandle noted in a Journal article published in March.
It’s a vicious cycle. Adults that are not able to read adequately will not be able to help their children.
If the state is not doing well in literacy, it will have a dire impact on its future. Children will fall behind academically, and in order for the state to prosper, future generations must excel.
This is the bad news, but here’s the good - there’s a lot we can do about this.
Organizations like Literacy Volunteers of the Eastern Panhandle provide tutoring services for basic literacy and English as a second language to adults in the region, according to the organization’s Facebook page. Services are provided free of charge by tutors trained in accordance with the standards set by Literacy West Virginia and Pro-Literacy America. The organization was founded in 1982, and its mission is to “empower adults in Berkeley, Jefferson and Morgan counties to reach their full potential as individual parents, workers and citizens through confidential and free literacy tutoring.”
For an adult to admit they need help with reading is no small thing. There is a stigma associated with illiteracy. There should be no shame for an individual seeking to better themselves, especially when the outcome has such profound effects.
It requires courage however. We hope that the thought of improving a child’s future - perhaps their own - is inspiration enough.
We also understand that there may be a barrier for us to reach many of the individuals we’d like to in this editorial.
Perhaps if we speak out and offer others support, we can create an environment where at least those among us held back by fear will be able to step forward.
We also can offer our support by donating - books or funds - to organizations that support literacy for adults and children.
And we can volunteer.
A list of literacy organizations in West Virginia can be found at www.literacywv.org.
Parkersburg News and Sentinel on college degrees:
We have been hearing it for years — four-year college degrees are not the end-all, be-all of higher education, and in fact can do more harm than good to students who graduate with a mountain of debt and not much to offer a potential employer.
West Virginia Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine spoke in Wheeling earlier this week about what our schools’ obsession with four-year (or more) degrees has done to our young people.
“The reality is no more than 50 percent of the jobs today and tomorrow will require a four-year degree, yet we only prepare 17 percent of our kids for those two-year programs that have high technical skills as a prerequisite for placement into occupations,” he said. “That’s a real mind-shift that I have to make, and you all (educators and school boards) have to be challenged with, too.”
Paine pointed to Maryland, Texas and Colorado, where research shows graduates from two-year programs are earning salaries higher than those with four-year degrees — and there is no sign that trend will change.
Of course, Paine reminded his audience of the China Energy Investment Corp. deal he said could bring “thousands of jobs” that will need to be filled by “highly skilled applicants,” he said.
Paine’s suggestion of a 50-50 curriculum balance in high schools between prep for four-year colleges and two-year programs is a good one. Four-year college degree programs are not right for every student, and more young people should feel free, and prepared, to follow a path that gives them the skills and training they need for the good jobs that will be available to them.