CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice says he has signed the bill that would dismantle the state Department of Education and the Arts.
In the same announcement, Justice said he aims to create a new Department of the Arts and Culture and History. It wasn’t immediately clear when or how such a department would be created.
“We’ve checked and double checked and there will be no lapses in federal funding and no harm caused to any of these programs,” Justice stated. “There are going to be real cost savings here and at the same time we are going to create the Department of the Arts and Culture and History that will answer directly to me.
“We want to preserve and aggressively grow our arts in West Virginia while at the same time making our education department, and government, more efficient and responsive.”
The bill would move the agencies within Education and the Arts to other existing departments, including the Department of Education and the Department of Commerce.
But critics of the bill had expressed worry about several factors including the loss of an official advocate for the arts, the time required to efficiently move the agencies, the continued flow of federal funding and what would happen to some programs that are not specifically mentioned in the bill.
A news release indicated the Justice administration concluded that no programs are at risk of having their federal funding reduced.
The administration also concluded that some programs — like the Office of Professional Development — that had been under Education and the Arts will be more appropriately administered in the Department of Education.
The administration wound up agreeing with proponents that the move will save money and make government more efficient.
“I want to thank Gov. Jim Justice for today taking this extraordinary step forward to give our teachers and principals more control over their professional development programs, and to eliminate some of the unneeded bureaucracy that’s been holding back our state’s educational system,” said House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa.
Espinosa, R-Jefferson, has been one of the main advocates for the bill.
“As we’ve said all along, House Bill 4006 was designed to make our education department more efficient and better tailored to fit the needs of our students, educators and administrators. I’m also glad the governor has recognized our commitment to ensuring there be no disruption of federal funds or services provided by these programs.”
What Justice would do with the bill has been highly-anticipated ever since it passed during the regular legislative session.
Conflict over what to do resulted in the firing of Justice’s high-profile secretary for Education and the Arts, Gayle Manchin, the wife of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.
The Department of Education and the Arts was established by then-Gov. Gaston Caperton, along with other super secretary cabinet positions. In 1989, Caperton 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 was disagreement this year over how much would be saved by doing away with Education and the Arts.
A fiscal note from the Department of Education — which is a separate agency from Education and the Arts — estimates savings of $750,000 through the elimination of some staff positions.
A separate fiscal note from the Department of Education and the Arts estimates no savings and suggests the move could actually be inefficient.