Charleston Gazette-Mail. September 14, 2023.
Editorial: PSC hits WV consumers yet again in rate hike
Ignoring mountains of public input against the idea, the West Virginia Public Service Commission has approved yet another rate increase for American Electric Power subsidiaries Appalachian Power and Wheeling Power. And there could be more to come.
The PSC approved an $88.8 million increase that the utilities will pass on to their customers to cover fuel costs at their power plants (re: coal). It’s small potatoes compared to some of the rate hikes the utility companies requested, but who is to say that those requests won’t return? It’s also cold comfort to those who have seen their utility bills skyrocket year after year.
Exactly how much more the utilities will bleed their customers this time isn’t yet clear, but it could be anywhere from a roughly additional $6 to $20 per month for residential customers, which is a big deal when considering West Virginia is one of the poorest states in the nation.
In the past six years, Appalachian Power has been granted permission to raise rates on its customers 14 times. Between 2005 and 2020, electricity bills for West Virginians rose by 90%, second only to Michigan over that time span.
It’s no coincidence that coal went from being one of the cheapest options for producing electricity to the most expensive method over that same time period. While coal industry shills argue that environmental regulations priced coal out of the game, more objective observers point to the emergence of abundant, cheaper natural gas, evolving and less-expensive renewables, and the depletion of coal seams as the primary factors behind the shift.
But, in West Virginia, coal is still king, however decrepit. Those with their hands on the wheel, including coal magnate Gov. Jim Justice, numerous members of the state Legislature and Justice’s hand-picked coal industry lifers on the PSC don’t know — or care to know — how to do anything other than wring every last dollar they can out of black, dusty rocks.
Coal once provided half of all the electricity produced in the United States. Now, it’s down to 20%. But, in West Virginia, 91% of electricity comes from coal-fired power plants. Coal continues to cost West Virginia, in terms of the health of workers and communities, any viable future economic competitiveness and, of course, the wallets of ratepayers held hostage by those clinging to the past.
The Intelligencer. September 19, 2023.
Editorial: Create a Welcoming Atmosphere in W.Va.
Most employers will tell you that if you want a job in West Virginia, you can find one. And those are just the employers who are hiring now. What about all those big names we know are building and will be ready to hire soon? What about the employers we hope to recruit?
WalletHub’s “2023’s States Where Employers Are Struggling the Most in Hiring” ranks the Mountain State second. Only Alaska is having a harder time of it.
A WOWK report on Workforce West Virginia’s new ad campaign suggests some state officials are aware of the urgency in tackling this challenge. In its report, the station notes West Virginia is unusual in that 13% of state residents are employed in another state.
“… One of the goals we’re trying to do is to reincorporate those folks who are working across the border, to take a look at jobs opportunities here in West Virginia,” Scott Adkins, of WorkForce West Virginia, told WOWK.
Fine, but what are we doing to address the issues that drove those employees to seek work in another state in the first place? And here’s another reality: West Virginia borders five states. Of course many residents are going to work in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Kentucky or Virginia.
Employers are struggling to find the balance between maintaining a healthy bottom line and being able to pay a competitive wage. Plenty are having a hard time finding job candidates with the education and training necessary.
And, again, these challenges are right now. How do we tell the next headline-grabbing employer there will be workers to fill their jobs, if they decide to come to West Virginia?
Lawmakers and other public officials must work on rules and regulations that help employers provide the pay and benefits sought by good employees — even if that means simply getting out of the way. Educators and policy makers must be focused on providing a quality education. And our communities must move forward as though they are ready to welcome new residents.
Parkersburg News and Sentinel. September 16, 2023.
Editorial: Education: Everyone has role to play in improvement
It seems no matter how you convey the results of testing — an A-F analysis or the Balanced Scorecard that has been in place since the 2017-18 school year — West Virginia schools are still doing a poorer job for our kids than they were doing pre-pandemic; and a poor job in general.
Balanced Scorecard results for the 2022-23 school year show there has been a small improvement over last year’s performance in the annual statewide assessment, but we haven’t gotten back even to 2018-19 levels.
Improvement is good, of course, but even with improvement, only 55% of West Virginia students PARTIALLY met the standard for English Language Arts. We were at 56.9% before the pandemic. Only 50.6% of students partially meet the standard in math, compared with 53.5% pre-pandemic.
But because parents should not be content with partially educated students, let’s look at the percentage deemed proficient. This time around, 35% of students tested were proficient in math, down from 39% in 2019. ELA proficiency was at 44%, down from 46% in 2019. Science proficiency was 29%, down from 33% pre-COVID.
That is simply unacceptable.
Parents and guardians can and should visit wveis.k12.wv.us/essa/dashboard.html for specifics on your childrens’ school districts.
Once we overcome our disappointment and frustration there is another step to take. Blaming schools and educators is easy — and certainly the responsibility lands in their laps. But what are families, communities and lawmakers doing to support them and give our students a better chance to excel?
As teachers take a look at these scores and figure out how to do better for our students, no doubt there will be concerns such as “How do we get lawmakers out of our way while we try to educate these kids?” “How are we supposed to focus on teaching when our schools are also caring for the physical and mental health of students, feeding them (sometimes clothing them), keeping them safe, and offering a haven they might not have at home?” “How are we going to get the resources we need to teach when our communities’ economies are still in shambles?”
And, “How do we convince students to prioritize their educations when families and communities too often place no value on — in fact, in some cases have a negative attitude toward — getting an education?”
There is blame to spread far and wide on this problem.
Teachers and school systems will use the data to get to work toward greater improvement. As they do so, we must ask ourselves, are we ready to do our share?