The West Virginia Senate passed a bill Tuesday that would make community and technical colleges free. Senate Bill 284 passed unanimously on a 34-0 vote and now heads to the House of Delegates.
The bill creates two programs -- the Advanced Career Education, or ACE, program and the WV Invests Grant. The ACE program aims to prepare secondary education students for career-oriented training by connecting county boards of education with community and technical colleges. The WV Invests Grant allows students to enter CTC programs free of charge after other scholarships and grants have been exhausted.
Students who have a high school diploma or a equivalent certificate, regardless of age, would be eligible to apply for the grant.
Senate Bill 284 was amended in the Senate Education Committee to lower an age eligibility requirement from 20 to 18 and include those younger with a diploma or other certification.
“The education committee moving the age down to 18 was a major change, you know because it takes the children who we were going to lose between 18 and 20 and gives them a pathway to success,” said Sen. Mike Romano, who introduced the amendment. “I remember President Bush's No Child Left Behind. By changing this age and what this has done -- we truly will leave no child behind in West Virginia -- because every one of them will get the opportunity to have a good career and make a good life for their families.”
Applicants must meet academic, residency and other eligibility requirements, including successfully passing a drug test prior to each semester of enrollment. Students would be responsible for the cost of the drug test.
Senators praised the bill on the floor, with Senate Education Chair Kenny Mann calling the occasion a “moon landing.”
“I know technically today we're not physically landing on the moon. But, you know -- for education in West Virginia -- maybe we are. And as I said in our education committee, I want you to remember this day and remember that we voted this through and changed education in West Virginia for the better,” Mann said.
The upper chamber said the bill provides opportunities to those who may not be interested in a four-year degree. Senators also noted how the bill aims to fill future workforce needs for the state.
“I've dreamed about this since I was a farmer riding a tractor -- 21 years old in Berkeley County -- growing apples and peaches. Because, when I was in school in 1976 and 77, they really wanted to push you to college education. ‘You got to go to a four-year, four-year, four-year,’” said Finance Chair Craig Blair.
“I didn't fit for me and it doesn't fit for a lot of us. But we can still be very, very, very productive. And I've got to add one last thing to this. When you put people into the workforce, it takes them off the entitlement rolls. That in itself pays dividends and also attracts business,” Blair added.
A fiscal note from the West Virginia Community & Technical College System says the WV Invests Grant would cost $8 million. A fiscal note from the West Virginia Department of Education says the ACE program will not cost the agency any additional dollars.