CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The bill dismantling the Department of Education and the Arts is headed to the governor.
The House of Delegates concurred with some changes on Saturday afternoon and passed the bill.
Many of the offices and programs within the department would be spun off to other state agencies such as the Department of Education and the Department of Commerce.
The West Virginia Educational Broadcasting Authority and the State Library Commission would continue as separate, independent agencies within the executive branch.
Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, again argued against passage.
“This is going to destroy arts in West Virginia,” Rowe said. “Always, always the first thing to be cut is the arts.”
He argued that the Legislature hasn’t fully thought through where the programs currently within Education and the Arts would be housed and how they would continue on.
“This is a mess,” he said.
And he contended that there will be financial effects that should have been reflected in the budget bill that was finalized earlier in the day.
“We just finished the budget with great pride that we did it before the extended session. We’re supposed to account for all the legislation and complete it before the budget.”
The Department of Education and the Arts dates back to the Caperton administration. Caperton, in 1989, proposed a constitutional amendment that would have placed responsibility for public education with the department, rather than with the state Board of Education.
The amendment was defeated, but the department lived.
There’s a political element to the puzzle too.
West Virginia’s secretary for Education and the Arts is Gayle Manchin, wife of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin.
The bill would eliminate her position, which pays $95,000 a year.
The bill passed the House 60-36. It now goes to Gov. Jim Justice who could veto it, sign it or let it become law without his signature.
“Mr. Speaker,” Rowe said after the vote, I failed to point out if the governor vetoes the bill, we will not have a problem with the budget.”
Shortly after that, the governor’s official Twitter account indicated Justice will be examining any possible complications from the bill.
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) March 10, 2018