CHARLESTON – Several senators, including Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, gave remarks from the floor in support of Senate Bill 284, Increasing access to career education and workforce training, which was introduced today.
The bill creates the West Virginia Invests Grant Program, which is designed to eliminate the financial barrier to receiving an education at West Virginia’s community and technical colleges. West Virginia currently ranks among the lowest states in the nation in both workforce participation and educational attainment. According to legislative findings included in the bill, the 2017 West Virginia Forward Report cites that “investments in improving human capital are considered the most significant opportunity for improvement in West Virginia, especially because access to a specialized workforce is a significant factor for investment attraction.”
Senate President Carmichael, speaking from the floor, said there is an opportunity this year to bring economic equality to the state, especially as it relates to getting an education.
“I think all of us agree, we’ve said it for years and years and years, that the true path to progress and opportunity is through educational attainment,” Senate President Carmichael said. “If we properly manage our resources we can provide, essentially, scholarships to everyone – everyone – that wants to attend community and technical college, to further their education, to gain a stackable skill set, to allow them to take that trade or that education to the workforce, and to the job market, and better themselves.”
Senator Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, said he applauded the efforts of the President.
“I think that when we looked at separating the community colleges 17, 18 years ago, that this is what we had in mind was preparing the workforce of tomorrow,” Senator Plymale said. “I think that if you couple this with some of the efforts that are being done at the CTE level and the 13th year and allowing kids to be able to start earning their community college credits in high school, that this is the right way to do things. The earlier we start showing kids a pathway to an excellent job, and that we run very credible community college courses and degrees that you can actually go right into the job, in my estimation, we’re on the right path.”
Senator Mike Romano, D-Harrison, also was supportive of the effort. He said that while he understands there may be some concern about the word ‘free,’ that he felt that the program did plenty to ensure that students in the program had a personal investment in succeeding. Additionally, Senator Ron Stollings, D-Boone, said that if we are able to educate West Virginians, we can improve not only our economy, but our health demographics.
“These three intersecting circles are inextricably tied, and so if we really want to do some big, big things, I think you’re absolutely on the right track, Mr. President,” Senator Stollings said.
Senator Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, spoke about the potential for reducing the drug addiction rate in counties like his, and how if we are able to put students on a pathway to hope, there is a tremendous benefit to the youth of West Virginia.
Senator Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said he realized when he was younger he was not bound for traditional college, but his career path enabled him to learn several different valuable trades.
“This initiative that the President is talking about will provide a broad spectrum, drug-free, business-ready workforce for the state of West Virginia,” Senator Blair said. “And we all benefit collectively – together – by utilizing all of those talents together. It is long overdue.”
Also rising in support was Senator Charles Clements, R-Wetzel. He said he visited some technical schools last year with Senator Greg Boso, R-Nicholas, and saw a proud, tremendous, hard-working attitude out of those students.
“As long as we can promote that type of attitude, drugs don’t become a problem,” Senator Clements said. “If we can provide a future, and a bright light for these people, they’re going to follow that bright light. Mr. President, I think this is an honorable thing that we’re proposing, and I think the whole state of West Virginia will be much better off.”
The bill has been referred to the Committee on Education.