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West Virginia lawmakers stress non-public-school student inclusion in free college bill


Charleston Gazette-Mail

Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur,
(Photo by Perry Bennett, West Virginia Legislative Photography)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The governor- and Senate-president-backed free community college bill was taken up Thursday in its first legislative committee, where members questioned when or whether the benefit would be available to private school and home-school students.

The Senate Education Committee meeting came a day after the West Virginia community college system’s chancellor told the House Education Committee that her colleges’ average tuition had jumped 31 percent over a half-decade while their headcount enrollment had dropped by a cumulative 23 percent.

Senate Education Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, said he ended Thursday’s meeting on Senate Bill 284 because of time constraints and expects the measure to be out of his committee by Tuesday.

In Thursday’s meeting, Sen. Robert Karnes, who has eight children who are either still being or were home-schooled, asked James Bailey, senior counsel for Republican Gov. Jim Justice, how “to fix this obvious error that we’ve built into the system.” He was referring to the possible exclusion of non-public school students.

Karnes, R-Upshur, noted that the bill bans people younger than 20 from taking advantage of the free college offer unless they go through an “Advanced Career Education” program that seems to be centered on public schools.

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