CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Senate is scheduled to vote Friday on a bill that would eliminate the Department of Education and the Arts and shift the programs it oversees to other state agencies.
The bill (HB 4006) passed the House of Delegates earlier this session. Supporters say the move will reduce redundancy in state government and save some money.
The Department of Education and the Arts is a totally separate department than the Department of Education. Gayle Manchin, the wife of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, is the cabinet secretary.
Senator Ron Stollings, D-Boone, made an unsuccessful bid to amend the bill Thursday. Stollings wanted to keep some provisions of the bill, like moving the Office of Professional Development to the state Department of Education, while keeping the Department of Education and the Arts in place.
Stollings said the department should remain in place to oversee programs like the state Division of Rehabilitation Services. The current bill shifts that program to the Department of Commerce.
“So we’re going to give that program to (Commerce Secretary) Woody Thrasher?” Stollings asked. “When you come from an area of the state that’s lost 40 percent of its economy, I want my commerce secretary to working on infrastructure, site development and trying to grow and diversify our economy. I don’t want him to worry about traumatic brain injury.”
Stollings said federal grant money that the department currently receives could be lost.
“I think we’re going to learn from the federal government that these grant fundings are potentially in trouble,” Stollings said.
Stollings and other senators said the proposed changes should be studied for a year.
But Senator Ryan Weld, R-Brooke, said he was initially concerned about the transfer of programs like Energy Express, an award-winning, 8-week, summer reading and nutrition program to the Department of Education. Weld said he received a letter from state School Superintendent Steve Paine saying that program and others would continue and be supported.
“Given the misgivings that I had about this bill and some concerns and some of the information that I had been hearing–I’m very thankful that Dr. Paine put this piece of correspondent out there because it helped me address some of the things in this bill that I had concerns over and I feel comfortable in moving forward with it,” Weld said.
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.