SENATE PRESIDENT JEFF KESSLER
In addition to making sure the state is on solid financial ground with a balanced budget, my top priorities for this session include effective education reform and addressing the prison overcrowding situation that has plagued our state for more than a decade. The prison overcrowding issue is a multifaceted problem that must be addressed from many angles. Our efforts to improve the public school system, treat and help the drug addicted and end child poverty will all go hand in hand with alleviating prison overcrowding.
In reforming our state’s education system we need to look at creative ways to educate children while also focusing on the need to bring in qualified teachers and pay them a competitive wage. We must consider giving local communities and school boards flexibility in how they educate, as leaders in these communities often know better than anyone what is working and what is not. Our educational system must focus not only on tests but critical thinking and real-world skills that arm our students with the mental fortitude to succeed in higher education and in a highly competitive 21st century economy.
I am certain that we can enact measures to alleviate the prison overcrowding situation while still keeping the public safe. The key is improving drug treatment programs while we also change the mindset of incarcerating people who have done something wrong but are not dangerous to other people. Some might say we are being soft on crime but that is not the case. We are being smart on crime. We need to evaluate on a case by case basis to determine who needs drug-related help and who needs to be behind bars.
By tackling child poverty in West Virginia, we help to improve both of these problems. How is a child supposed to focus on his schoolwork during the day when he is worrying about what he is going to have to eat that evening? How can parents be fully engaged in their child’s education when they are struggling to provide for their family? These are complex societal questions that have always existed but we can and we must do all that we can to address them now.
On the first day of session this week the Senate adopted Senate Resolution 6, creating the Select Committee on Children and Poverty. We hope that this committee can foster new and innovative solutions to this grave problem. All children have an equal right to health, education and opportunities. I can assure you I will do all I can to make sure our kids are cared for. If we can attack issues early, we can prevent many issues we see down the road.
In closing, I intend to bring the issue of the Futures Fund back to the forefront during this session. During the recent economic recession our leaders made sure that West Virginia stayed on solid financial ground. Our bills were paid on time and we were not forced to borrow money or furlough workers as many other states were.
I think this is the perfect time to use that fiscal vision to invest in the future. I would like to see a permanent endowment future fund, that is funded by a portion of the natural gas severance tax so that in many years when the natural gas is gone, the wealth and opportunity will remain.
If we can create the fund and start putting money in it now, it will send a powerful signal to Wall Street that West Virginia, during these tough economic times, is not only balancing its budget but saving for the future.
Our state has limitless potential and I am looking forward to helping us reach new heights during this session and well into the future.