Del. Michael Folk (R – Berkeley, 63) professes to be interested in promoting quality education in West Virginia, but he has an odd way of showing it. In February 2016, Del. Folk was the lead sponsor of two bills that would have abolished key components of the education system in West Virginia. One of these, HB 4611, would have abolished the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education.
HB 4611 would not have abolished the colleges themselves, but instead would have transferred to each of them the power and duties of the Council. Perhaps Del. Folk believed that this would eliminate an unnecessary level of bureaucracy and cost. But that appears to be incorrect.
The non-partisan fiscal notes attached to the Bill state the problem with this potential legislation:
The enactment of this legislation would have a substantial negative financial impact on the State, institutions and students served by public higher education. The Council is a critical and necessary partner in [sic] with the West Virginia Department of Commerce and others in the process to support existing businesses and attract businesses such as Proctor and Gamble and Macy’s to West Virginia. Corporations will not locate to the State without significant workforce investment commitments from a State agency that serves as the coordinating entity for Community and Technical Colleges. This coordination cannot occur at the local level.
There would be other financial consequences as well. The Council receives federal and state grants of over $2.8 million that would not be received directly by institutions. The Council also provides facilities management services to each college. The fiscal notes estimate that if each college were forced to hire its own director of facilities management the net additional cost would be $1,134,000.
Inadequate education is holding back our economy. In 2015, the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy published its eighth annual report on the state’s economy. The report focused on West Virginia’s labor force participation rate (LFPR), the lowest in the nation — where it has ranked since 1976. Using a regression analysis, the Center isolated several factors that are drivers of the low rate. One of the most important was inadequate education.
West Virginia’s educational attainment rate is also one of the lowest in the nation. Only 21% of the state’s prime working-age population (25-54) has a four-year college degree, compared to the national average of 31%. In this same age category, 42% have only a high school education, the highest rate in the country. But when the LFPR statistics are parsed, it is clear how critical education is. Those West Virginians with a college degree have a higher LFPR than the national average, ranking the state 14th highest.
More working West Virginians mean a more prosperous economy, more secure and stable families, and much more. A more educated West Virginia means more of our fellow citizens will be working. Against this backdrop, Del. Folk’s attempt to abolish the West Virginia Council for Community and Technical College Education was reckless and irresponsible. Let’s hope he does not repeat the attempt during the new legislative session.