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Editorial: Earmarking Higher Education Funding

From The Intelligencer of Wheeling:

West Virginia’s budget crunch grew tighter during the past few years, state legislators have been right to ask whether taxpayers can afford all the higher education we are paying for now.

Among them, public colleges, universities and medical schools eat up about $400 million a year from the general revenue fund. That is approximately one-tenth of the total in that budget.

House of Delegates members have approved a budget bill that would cut the total substantially, to about $370 million. Delegates’ method of doing that is flawed, however.

For years, state higher education budgets have been specific. They earmark money for the Council for Community and Technical College Education (about $7 million this year) and for the Higher Education Policy Commission (about $70.2 million). In addition, they earmark money for each college, university and medical school. This year’s budget includes about $323 milion allocated by that method.

By using earmarks, legislators ensure each and every institution receives some support from West Virginia taxpayers.

But the House budget bill for the coming fiscal year simply dumps $60.9 million on the community and technical college council and another $309.5 million on the HEPC. How much each individual college, university or medical school gets would be up to officials at the two governing bodies. There is no funding safeguard for any of the individual institutions.

Obviously, at least during a transition period to full funding control by the two governing bodies, individual institutions should receive at least some earmarked funding.

Hard choices about higher education funding need to be made. But they ought to be made by legislators, after due consideration of needs and consequences, not by unelected members of the two governing agencies.

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