Blue Ribbon Commission still eyes $10 million more higher ed funding

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education is still moving toward asking for an additional $10 million in funding to be divvied among West Virginia’s regional 4-year institutions.

There are some complications, though.

One is that the institutions say they need the money for the current fiscal year.

That would rule out going to the Legislature for funding. When lawmakers meet for the next regular session, they’ll determine budgets for the 2019 fiscal year.

So higher education leaders speaking on a teleconference Monday afternoon proposed first seeking the $10 million from the governor’s contingency fund.

That would provide a base, they said, to build a performance-based funding formula for future years.

“We hope this recalibration formula will be adopted and become the FY20 permanent base,” said Fairmont State President Mirta Martin.

Members of the Blue Ribbon Commission’s finance subcommittee, which met Monday by conference call, said they are unlikely to come up with such a funding formula until at least next November.

Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert first proposed the additional $10 million during a meeting last month.

He calculates the money would represent a restoration of about 16.7 percent of the funds that had been cut from higher education.

The most recent cut to higher education came in 2017 — a $16 million cut across the system as legislators grappled with balancing the state budget with declining revenue.

State revenue has been performing better of late, with significant surpluses being announced the past few months.

Gov. Jim Justice established the Blue Ribbon Commission at the end of June, expressing desire to shore up the finances of West Virginia’s four-year colleges. He asked for a December deadline for recommendations.

“Our West Virginia colleges and universities are so critical to our communities, and the continued erosion of their stability deeply concerns me,” Justice stated then.

The Blue Ribbon Commission has a busy week ahead.

A full commission meeting, also to be conducted by teleconference, is scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday.

On Friday, a full day of Blue Ribbon Commission activities is planned at Tamarack in Beckley.

At 11 a.m., commission members plan “an exchange of ideas about the future of West Virginia’s Higher Education Policy Commission.”

Then at 1 p.m., the commission plans to have another regular meeting.

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