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Low Priority?

Valuing Education in West Virginia

Though it may not have been their intention, West Virginia lawmakers sent a clear message to West Virginians and those looking in during this year’s legislative session: Education is not a priority — unless we’re talking about being able to control it from Charleston.

As the session ticked down to its final day, the budget measure that was passed still included big cuts to spending for West Virginia University, Marshall University and the state’s other four- and two-year institutions of higher learning. In theory, the hope is much of what was cut will be restored at the end of the current fiscal year on June 30 from surpluses in tax collections, assuming all goes well.

State Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said “It’s crossed my mind that I’d like to reject it and send it back over to (the House), but it would be a foolish maneuver …” In other words, time was up, and a budget was necessary, warts and all.

“I think it’s irresponsible for us to pass this budget, accept the cuts we’re talking about to WVU and Marshall, and say ‘guess what? You’ll get your money July 1,'” said state Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne.

It is true, academia can almost always find ways to trim fat. There is room for them to be better stewards of taxpayer money, without raising tuition and fees. Perhaps this year, they will do that. But the uncertainty and lack of support is problematic, if for no other reason than it tells those in Washington, D.C., they need not worry too much about funding to support our colleges and universities.

With enormous sums of money being tossed around (well, proposed for tossing around, anyway), why on earth would members of Congress look at West Virginia and think anything but, “They don’t value higher education in their state, why should we bother?”

It’s the wrong message. We want to attract and retain young people. We want families to believe their kids will have every opportunity in West Virginia. We want to train a workforce ready for an expanded and diversified economy that leads, rather than trailing far behind. It is time lawmakers started to act as though they want those things, too.

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