Tuition Bill

Senators right in pushing for measure

West Virginia legislators seem to have adopted the philosophy that perfect is the enemy of good regarding an important proposal to make it easier for Mountain State residents to continue their educations past high school.

That is appropriate this year in particular. It is likely that the longer their 60-day regular session proceeds, the more bogged down legislators will become with a variety of controversial matters.

Something like that happened last year, when a pet bill proposed by state Senate President Mitch Carmichael got caught in the crush of other business.

It was approved by the state Senate, but was not reported out of the House of Delegates Education Committee.

Carmichael’s idea is that students who seek post-high school training in community and technical colleges should receive some help. He calls it the “West Virginia Invests Grant Program.”

Under the proposal, students in public two-year colleges could have their tuition paid under certain circumstances.

Among the conditions are that participants must pass drug screenings and must spend at least two years in West Virginia after graduating from their technical or community colleges.

Carmichael thought enough of the idea to make it Senate Bill 1 on this year’s agenda. It was approved unanimously by the Senate Education and Finance committee.

SB 1 is expected to be approved by a wide, bipartisan margin this week.

Meanwhile, House of Delegates members have been discussing similar initiatives.

Several important concerns have been raised about the SB 1 approach. Officials in some four-year colleges and universities worry the free tuition plan may sidetrack some students from two-year programs at their institutions.

Money is another worry. One estimate of the cost of SB 1 has been about $10 million a year. Some worry it may require more than that.

Finally, there is the question of whether private vocational colleges should be eligible to participate.

Questions raised about the proposal are valid. One of them, cost, can be handled simply by limiting the budget appropriation for the program to $10 million. Others may require more thinking and more legislation.

But senators are right to push ahead with SB 1 and to encourage their House counterparts to approve something similar.

Unless we miss our guess, action at the Capitol will heat up soon. Valuable bills will become sidetracked and forgotten. This one should not be allowed to suffer that fate again.

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