CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate unanimously passed a bill meant to provide financial support for West Virginia students in community college and vocational programs.
Senators passed the bill 34-0 on Tuesday afternoon, with Democrats and Republicans standing to speak in favor of it. The bill now goes to the House of Delegates, where delegates privately discussing the bill have been more subdued about its cost and effects.
“This bill, in my opinion, deserves a so-called moon landing speech,” said Senate Education Chairman Kenny Mann, R-Monroe, who added that he hopes it is well-received in the House.
The bill would provide funding to pay off a career and technical college student’s tuition balance. It has sometimes been the “last dollar ‘in” bill.
One of its goals is to encourage students to receive the vocational or technical training they may need for emerging jobs in industries such as natural gas or chemical manufacturing.
“We’ve got to make these things available for the students; we’ve got to show them what the pathways are, and we’ve got to show them they can stay in West Virginia,” said Senator Robert Plymale, D-Cabell, and a former education committee chairman.
The bill initially included a requirement that students be at least 20 years old or enrolled in a enrolled in a high school advanced career education program, although those requirements were amended out in Senate Finance.
The changed bill now says students straight out of high school would be eligible to get a grant.
The bill does require students to pay back their grants if they leave the state within two years after completing the program. And there is a drug testing requirement.
A fiscal note for the bill estimates its effects to cost the state an additional $8 million a year.
Senator Mike Romano, D-Harrison, described the initiative as a worthy investment.
“I think it’s a real achievement for West Virginia. It couldn’t have passed without you guys because you’re all in the majority,” he said to Republicans.
Senator Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, touted the bill as a way to steer students into educational programs likely to result in employment.
Karnes also expressed approval of aspects of the bill meant to keep grant recipients in state.
“This is clearly designed to try to keep them here, keep them working in West Virginia,” Karnes said.
“It’s not just about getting an education; it’s about getting an education that’s appropriate to the needs of our state.”
Senator Charles Trump, R-Morgan, talked about the impact of the Procter & Gamble plant on the Eastern Panhandle.
The plant has developed programs with local Blue Ridge Community and Technical College, meant to directly shape its workforce.
Trump said that experience has made him see the broader potential of vocational and technical programs.
“We talk about the jobs of tomorrow, and in truth we don’t know what those are. But our community and technical colleges are in the process of crafting those,” Trump said.