CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate will next see an education bill that includes the elimination of the Department of Education and the Arts and moves its existing programs to other departments including the Department of Education, a separate entity.
“I believe this is a long overdue bill,” said House Education Chair Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson, 66) prior to House passage of HB 4006 with a 60-36 vote.
Under the House bill, the responsibilities of the Department of Education and the Arts will be shifted elsewhere for greater educational efficiencies, Espinosa said.
In answering questions from several delegates during more than an hour of debate, Espinosa said there should be no disruption in services.
“Just the bureaucracy, if you will, is eliminated. All of the programs underneath it. All of the agencies, I should say, underneath it do move to other areas,” Espinosa told his colleagues.
Currently, the department includes the Division of Culture and History, the Division of Rehabilitation Services, the Center for Professional Development, the West Virginia Library Commission, West Virginia Public Broadcasting and Volunteer West Virginia.
“There is no advocate for the arts left whenever the Secretary’s gone,” said Delegate Larry Rowe (D-Kanawha, 36).
Others, though, argued the department was not needed.
“Finally, we’re getting to see some things that need to be abolished in this government and I’m all for it,” said Delegate Mike Folk (R-Berkeley, 63).
The Department of Education and the Arts, created under former Governor Gaston Caperton, was originally formed in an attempt to shift education oversight, but the attempt was dropped when a required Constitutional Amendment failed.
Since then, “Down through the years, what the Education and the Arts has become is a place where those initiatives and programs around this state that do not necessarily fit into K-12 (can go),” Education and the Arts Secretary Gayle Manchin previously said.
Governor Jim Justice appointed Manchin last year.
Espinosa argued the bill has been discussed for years.
“Although this bill has been portrayed by some as a personal attack, the secretary in office when the bill was developed has since retired,” he said in reference to former Secretary Kay Goodwin.
As currently written, the bill would take effect on July 1, 2018.
The House of Delegates passed a similar bill last year, but it failed to make it through the Senate.