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Fate of WV Dept. of Education and Arts rests with Gov. Justice

Fate of WV Dept. of Education and Arts rests with Gov. Justice
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The choice is now up to Republican Gov. Jim Justice on whether to dismantle the state Department of Education and the Arts, erase the position of its secretary and scatter its agencies to other parts of state government.

The House of Delegates concurred 60-36 Saturday, the last day of this year’s regular legislative session, with the state Senate’s amended version of House Bill 4006, thus sending the bill to Justice for his signature or veto.

The House vote was mostly along party lines, though Delegate Shirley Love, D-Fayette, voted for the bill, and Delegate Ben Queen, R-Harrison, voted against it.

Delegates Moore Capito, R-Kanawha, Frank Deem, R-Wood, and Chuck Romine, R-Cabell, didn’t vote.

The Senate passed the bill 18-15 Friday, with Senate Education Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, absent. All Democrats voted against it, as did three Republicans: Sens. Mark Drennan, R-Putnam; Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha; and Chandler Swope, R-Mercer.

The state’s current secretary of education and the arts is Gayle Manchin, wife of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who’s running for re-election this year. Justice appointed Gayle Manchin to the role back when the governor was still a registered Democrat.

H.B. 4006 would transfer the department’s Center for Professional Development to the state Department of Education, a separate, primarily prekindergarten through 12th grade-centered entity.

The bill would make the Department of Education and the Arts’ Educational Broadcasting Authority and State Library Commission “separate independent agencies within the executive branch.” The department’s Division of Culture and History and its Division of Rehabilitation Services would be moved to the Department of Commerce.

Delegates who opposed H.B. 4006 noted it doesn’t mention other programs and agencies under or supported by the department.

Those include Energy Express (a summer feeding and literacy program for children), the Governor’s Schools (“residential summer sessions for academically and/or artistically talented students,” per the department’s website), Imagination Library (gives children free books), Special Olympics and Volunteer West Virginia (a volunteer and community service organization supported by federal AmeriCorps funding).

House Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, has said he doesn’t think such programs are mentioned in state law now and said he doesn’t believe the bill will affect them, aside from transferring their oversight.

”Where in the world are these programs going to go?” Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha said on the House floor Saturday. He’s been a vocal opponent of the bill this session, and he was the only one to speak against it Saturday when it came up on the House floor.

“It’s premature, it’s unnecessary, it’s not helpful, it’s created a budget upside down mess,” Rowe said. “We’re killing the arts in West Virginia by eliminating the advocacy of the secretary.”

Democrats have expressed concern that the bill could jeopardize certain programs, like Energy Express, under the Department of Education and the Arts, including by threatening their federal funding.

State Schools Superintendent Steve Paine, who leads the day-to-day operations of the state Department of Education, wrote a letter dated Wednesday, the day the bill hit the full Senate floor, in which he told Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, that he believes the bill “provides the opportunity to restructure education programming for the sake of coordinated delivery and gaining efficiencies.”

“Please rest assured that, should it be the will of the Legislature to transfer various programs and services currently operated and administered by the EA [Education and the Arts] to the WVDE [West Virginia Department of Education], such initiatives will continue without interruption,” Paine wrote.

Paine told Carmichael that two Energy Express leaders had “no concern” that “federal funding supporting Energy Express will be jeopardized” by the bill, but those two leaders — Heather Foster, executive director of Volunteer WV, and Matthew Beatty, interim director of Energy Express at the West Virginia University Extension Service – have said they actually do have concerns.

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