During both the 2015 and the 2016 state Legislative sessions, the House of Delegates pushed a bill that would make the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind eligible for funding from the West Virginia School Building Authority, or SBA. In 2015, it was vetoed by then-Governor Tomblin, and in 2016, it never made it out of the Senate’s Finance committee. Now, members in the House are trying once again this year, with House Bill 2123.
The Schools for the Deaf and Blind are located in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle in the small town of Romney. They serve Pre-K to twelfth graders from all over the state. But over the years, the campus and its buildings have fallen into disrepair.
As state-owned schools, they don’t have the ability to raise their own funds through bonds or levies like a county school system to help pay for construction, repairs, or building upgrades. They also aren’t eligible for funding from the SBA, a government agency that awards additional state dollars to counties to help pay for capital improvement projects.
House Bill 2123 is the House of Delegates’ third attempt to change that eligibility.
Delegate Paul Espinosa of Jefferson County is the House Education Chairman. His committee took up the bill Wednesday.
“One of the things that’s become very apparent is members have actually toured the facilities at the Schools for the Deaf and Blind, is that there are significant capital needs that are necessary in order to bring those facilities up to a level that is conducive to a positive education environment,” Espinosa said.
Administrators at the Schools for the Deaf and Bind estimate they need $1.5 million to update their current facilities through new construction or repairs. Over the past two sessions, lawmakers have been reluctant to just appropriate those funds straight out. But making them accessible through the existing SBA funding, Espinosa says, could be a good option.
“This just kind of addresses that gap that has been created over time where the Schools have not perhaps received the funding that’s necessary in order to address their capital needs,” Espinosa explained, “It would make them eligible to participate under the School Building Authority program.”
The House Education Committee voted to advance the bill Wednesday. It now goes to House Finance for further consideration.