Recent editorials from West Virginia newspapers:
The Elkins (West Virginia) Inter-Mountain on finding a breakthrough in West Virginia's public education:
Fewer than half the students in West Virginia public schools can demonstrate grade-level proficiency in mathematics, according to the state's own yardstick. The numbers are slightly worse for science.
Eight schools throughout the state are part of a very small group of sites in a $1 million experiment aimed at changing that.
Funded by The Education Alliance, the project is intended to improve how STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) are taught in public schools. Just eight schools throughout the state were selected to participate.
Schools in the program will have three years to "raise the bar in STEM education and produce a model for statewide replication," explained Education Alliance President and CEO Amelia Courts.
Here's hoping they succeed. But that will happen only if teachers at the schools are permitted to educate outside the very restrictive box in which state and federal governments have placed them.
Even The Education Alliance has placed boundaries on how teachers can attack the problem. In a news release, the organization noted participating schools "will follow key design principles ..."
Why? Why not give educators the freedom to, as so many often plead, "to just teach?"
Obviously, there need to be some limits on how the project is pursued. None of the thousands of parents of students who will be involved wants their child to be used as a "guinea pig."
But why can't educators in the STEM project be told to do what they think is best for students - with the realization that frequent evaluations will prevent ongoing failures?
Scientists understand preconceived notions about their work can be their worst enemies. Keeping experiments within rigidly defined boundaries can prevent breakthroughs.
In public education, West Virginians need a breakthrough.
Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette-Mail on fighting West Virginia's drug problem:
The good news is that crystal meth addiction is decreasing in West Virginia. Police busted 531 meth labs in 2013, but the number seems to be dropping to around half of that this year. Crack cocaine also is less noticeable.
The bad news is that other types of addiction — to pain pills and heroin — are bad as ever, senselessly destroying young lives, wrecking families, hurting communities. The Mountain State continues to lead the nation in overdose deaths.
And the curse isn't limited to poverty-wracked coal towns. A new federal report says prosperous Berkeley County in the Eastern Panhandle had 24 overdose deaths last year.
Cabell County paramedics reported 41 overdoses, and nine deaths, in the first three weeks of September.
In Congress, Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito are crusading against the menace, chiefly by sending federal money for extra policing, and for drug courts that try to keep addicts clean instead of punishing them.
"Crime and substance abuse wreaks so much havoc on our families, our communities and our state," Manchin said. "Our drug court officers must have the necessary resources to provide treatment and other services to those battling drug addictions so that we can combat this devastating epidemic."
Capito commented: "West Virginia's drug epidemic is hurting businesses seeking to hire new workers and homeowners who are concerned about declining neighborhoods and home values."
It's possible for some victims — those with enough courage and inner strength — to become "clean and sober," saving themselves.
Last week, profiler Sandy Wells told the tragic-but-inspiring story of Jeremy Pfost, who came from a successful Charleston family, but sank toward hopeless addiction at age 14 at John Adams Junior High.
He was thrown out of high school in 10th grade and lived two decades off-and-on as a "scruffy bum," stealing to get drug money, manipulating friends, sleeping in a tool shed, living in a car.
Finally, in his late 30s, Pfost pulled himself together and "detoxed by myself." He credits religion and church friends with keeping him drug-free. With support from Randolph Street Baptist Church, he's launching Hope for Appalachia to rescue more addicts. A charity golf tournament last week at Berry Hills Country Club generated seed money for the project.
If Pfost can save himself, other strong-willed addicts can do likewise. We hope that all the various efforts — by members of Congress, by West Virginia drug courts, by police, by clinics, by church groups and by ex-addicts — can make headway against this mindless curse upon West Virginia.
The Exponent (West Virginia) Telegram on raising severance taxes on natural gas:
The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy has released a study suggesting that raising the state's severance tax on natural gas liquids could increase revenue and help West Virginia profit from the use of the "wet gas" in-state.
According to the study, a plan to increase the gas severance tax from 5 percent to 10 or 15 percent could increase state revenue by about $168 million over the next five years. The plan would offer tax incentives that would reduce the effective severance tax rate for the gas and liquids that are used in ethane cracker plants or other downstream industries in West Virginia.
Sean O'Leary, a policy analyst with the Center on Budget and Policy, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail that the plan isn't focused on incentivizing the production of more natural gas, but rather making sure that the natural gas produced in the state is creating more jobs here.
"It's not that we aren't producing it," O'Leary said. "We are producing a ton of it, but we are shipping it all out of state."
Over the past several years, state officials have attempted to lure ethane cracker plants to the state, but to no avail. Several companies, including PTT Global Chemical, have chosen to build the secondary industries in other states like Ohio.
Companies are investing billions of dollars in pipelines to move natural gas and its byproducts out of the Marcellus Shale region to the Gulf Coast and other areas for processing.
Columbia Pipeline Group recently announced plans to spend $1.75 billion to build and improve pipelines in Ohio and West Virginia in order to connect gas wells there to pipelines transporting natural gas and natural gas liquids to the Gulf Coast, with the potential to move 1.5 million cubic feet of gas per day.
The shipping of natural gas and natural gas liquids out of West Virginia is costing jobs and investment, according to state officials.
In response to a decision by Chesapeake Energy to sign a long-term contract to transport 75,000 barrels of ethane per day from the Marcellus Shale region to Texas, West Virginia Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette remarked, "Every barrel of ethane shipped out of West Virginia means less and less investment."
At current prices, 75,000 barrels means West Virginia is losing roughly $1.875 million in potential investment each day from that Chesapeake Energy contract alone. Just think about what this could do for West Virginia's economy if we were able to retain just a fraction of that in state.
Since West Virginia's severance tax has been shown to have very little, if any, negative impact on natural gas production in the state, as evidenced by the rapid and ongoing increase in production, the state could feasibly raise the severance tax on just natural gas liquids, with little or no negative impact on production.
For example, West Virginia could raise its severance tax on natural gas liquids from its current rate of 5 percent to a base rate of 10 or 15 percent. That isn't out-of-line with what the top 10 energy states are imposing.
Since nearly all the natural gas liquids produced in West Virginia are exported, the higher tax would largely fall on out-of-state producers and consumers; the tax would likely have little impact on production in the Mountain State, particularly since the tax on dry natural gas would stay the same.
In fiscal year 2015, the 5 percent severance tax on natural gas liquids generated an estimated $20.3 million in revenue; that is projected to increase to about $37 million by fiscal year 2020. Increasing the severance tax on natural gas liquids from 5 percent to 10 percent could generate an additional $37 million in severance tax revenue for West Virginia by fiscal year 2020, while a 15 percent rate would generate an additional $73 million.
The state could then offer a tax credit if the natural gas liquids are sold to an in-state cracker plant or other chemical manufacturing facility. At 2014 prices, a $1.25- to $2.50-per-barrel credit would offset the tax increase. This would make it cheaper for companies to use West Virginia-produced gas liquids in manufacturing industries here, rather than shipping the liquids to facilities out of state.
The Exponent Telegram encourages state lawmakers to consider modifying the gas severance tax so West Virginia can create an incentive to keep natural gas liquids here, while offering a credit for in-state use, thus creating jobs and economic growth in chemical manufacturing and other manufacturing industries.
The tax change would also generate much-needed additional revenue, ensuring West Virginia enjoys some of the benefits from its natural resources, even when these are shipped out of state.