Senate resolution defends higher education

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By Shauna Johnson

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – As state agencies face another round of budget cuts during the 2015 Fiscal Year, a resolution has been introduced in the Senate in defense of funding for higher education.

The proposed resolution, as written, recognizes that “any additional cuts to the funding for higher education institutions would be detrimental to the growth and the financial well-being of West Virginia.”

It continued, “Budgetary cuts to higher education in West Virginia will not help the serious economic and educational issues that face the state, nor would cuts allow an optimal return on investment.” Educational investment, the resolution said, must be a priority.

Dr. Paul Hill, chancellor for the Higher Education Policy Commission, agreed.

“Look at what we do, that is put degreed individuals on the street, into the workforce of West Virginia. They’re just very concerned about the ability to do that,” Hill said of the resolution’s Senate supporters.

For the current fiscal year, higher education institutions, like most other state agencies, cut their budgets by at least 7.5 percent. While many agencies are being told to cut another 7.5 percent ahead of 2015, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has asked for a 3.75 percent reduction from higher ed.

Hill said the previous cuts were substantial. “That belt-tightening at our institutions has lead to not filling positions. We have some institutions, I know a couple, that have 20 to 30 positions they simply are not filling. They’re doubling up on some workloads. I know we’ve had some reductions of staff,” and, Hill added, only so much can be cut.

“If we continue this process, it ultimately leads to increases in tuition,” he said. Tuition has already risen, statewide and nationally, by anywhere from five percent to ten percent in recent years.

The sponsors of the resolution, SR 18, are as follows:

Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall, 2), Senator Roman Prezioso (D-Marion, 13), Senator Bob Plymale (D-Wayne, 5), Senator Larry Edgell (D-Wetzel, 2), Senate Majority Leader John Unger (D-Berkeley, 16), Senator Ron Stollings (D-Boone, 7), Senator William Laird (D-Fayette, 10), Senator Herb Snyder (D-Jefferson, 16), Senator Evan Jenkins (R-Cabell, 5), Senator Brooks McCabe (D-Kanawha, 17), Senator Bob Beach (D-Monongalia, 13), Senator Rocky Fitzsimmons (D-Ohio, 1) and Senator Daniel Hall (D-Wyoming, 9).

The resolution, which is a statement more than binding legislation, was awaiting action from the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.

Hill was a guest on Tuesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”