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Legislative Lookahead: W.Va. lawmakers to focus on community college scholarships in 2018 session

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  – Bills to incentivize people to attend community and technical colleges will be up for discussion in the next legislative session.

Moderator John Dahlia, NVWV business editor, standing, and, from left, Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers; Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha; Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia; and Delegate Robert Thompson, D-Wayne; discuss possible legislation that would impact education in West Virginia during the West Virginia Press Association’s Legislative Lookahead Friday, Jan. 5, in Charleston. West Virginia Press Association Photo

In Friday’s West Virginia Press Association’s Legislative Lookahead, panelists discussed educational issues they expect to come up during the upcoming legislative session. One of the ideas lawmakers tossed around is the idea of a scholarship for people to attend community colleges. …

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, previously said this is a big issue he hopes to address in the upcoming legislative session.

Carmichael said as lawmakers craft the proposal, there may be a requirement for drug testing students when they obtain their certificates or degrees. Another qualification will deal with making sure wealthy West Virginians who could pay for their education would not qualify. Another qualification would have the goal of keeping graduates in state.

“There will also be a post graduate residency requirement so they can give back to the state. Otherwise it would be a loan that the student goes to another state to work would have to pay back,” Carmichael said. “At this point, it’s just conceptual. Nothing is set in stone.”

Speaker of the House Tim Armstead, D- Kanawha, said he sees appetite in the House of modeling a program from the PROMISE scholarship where a student has to achieve a certain level of not only grades, but also participation. However, he said the discussion is ongoing.

“There is a lot of interest in making sure whether it is true making PROMISE more accessible to community colleges or different scholarships open, but I do think we want to bring different concerns together to make sure the program is the best fit,” Armstead said.

Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, shared his own recommendation on the education panel Friday. Rowe said the bill he plans to introduce will include adult learners as well in what he called a Hope scholarship. Under Rowe’s bill, the student would have to earn a 2.5 GPA and score a 16 on the ACT.

“They would not be walking into a trade school or community college. They would have to earn their way in.

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Panelists discussed other education issues they expect to come up next session. Christine Campbell, with the American Federation of Teachers, said she hopes pay raises for teachers will come up this session.

“Just like we can’t cut our way into prosperity, we can’t cut educational funding and expect to see educational improvements,” Campbell said. “We have to invest in public education… . You don’t have people going into education as much because they come out of college with $50,000 in debt to make a starting salary of $30,000. We aren’t keeping people in West Virginia. States around us are paying anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000 more on average. It’s easy to travel across the border to work and make a living wage as opposed to where we are here.”

Lawmakers said they don’t see any support for charter schools, which has come up many times before. However, Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, said he anticipates having legislation on educational savings accounts geared toward special needs students. Under this proposal, 75 percent of funds would go to the student and 25 percent would go to the local area. …

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