The House voted on two education-related bills Tuesday – one that would give The West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind access to the School Building Authority and another aimed at giving higher education institutions more control of their own affairs.
House Bill 2123 – W.Va. Schools for the Deaf and Blind:
The West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, located in the Eastern Panhandle, have been around since 1870, starting out with just 30 students. Over the years, enrollment increased and the campus grew to 79 acres with sixteen major buildings.
The Schools for the Deaf and Blind have since fallen into disrepair, though. Administrators at the Schools say it would take roughly $1.5 million to take care of current construction and renovation needs. Unable to raise their own funds through bonds or levies to help pay for construction, repairs, or building upgrades like a county school system – the Schools sought help from lawmakers. Those efforts during the past few years, though, have been unsuccessful, but members in the House are trying once again to help the Schools find funding through House Bill 2123.
“We had this bill the last two years,” said Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, House Finance Chair, “it passed out of this body unanimously. What this does is just allow the School and the Deaf and the Blind who reach out to needy children throughout this whole state to compete for some of the funds in the SBA, or the School Building Authority, that they issue annually to fund major improvements. I urge passage.”
The first year, the bill was vetoed by then-Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, and last year, it was held up in the Senate’s Finance committee. It passed out of the House unanimously on Tuesday.
Delegate Ruth Rowan, a Republican from Hampshire County, is the lead sponsor of the bill. She says the battle has been worth it –
“Because I know these children, and I know how much they need this, so they’re worth fighting for,” Rowan explained.
House Bill 2542 – Higher Education Flexibility:
House Bill 2542 was also taken up in the chamber. Its overall goal is to give West Virginia University, Marshall University, and the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine more flexibility in staffing and setting pay scales. Smaller universities and colleges in the state would have to notify the Higher Education Policy Commission of their intent to do the same.
The bill takes out the requirement that institutions have a recall list, essentially a list of laid off workers who, if their job would become available, would receive a call asking if they want their job back. The recall list becomes optional under the legislation.
Several Democrats argued the bill would open the door to age discrimination. House Education Chair Paul Espinosa countered that employees would still have the protection from the federal Civil Rights Act, Age in Discrimination in Employment Act, and Americans with Disabilities Act.
House Bill 2542 passed, 61-38, and moves across the rotunda to the Senate.