What does free education have to do with free enterprise?
Many might think, “Nothing,” but a unanimous state Senate declared “Everything” last week.
In a 34-0 vote, the Senate approved SB 284, which increases access to community and technical college.
Though as initially skeptical of this bill as we are of many others, the more schooled we got about SB 284, the more of a no-brainer it became.
It also helped that a number of conditions were added to this legislation that is intended to give more young people a fast track to jobs and careers.
Some of those conditions include:
— Dropping the age of eligibility from 20 to 18.
— Putting in safeguards to control costs, which are initially pegged at $8 million annually.
— Requiring students to file for federal financial aid, with those grants applied first against tuition costs.
— Requiring graduates to repay some or all of the money they received if they reside outside the state within two years of graduating.
Other conditions require students to maintain a 2.0 GPA, take at least six credit hours a semester, pass a drug test each semester and perform community service.
But beyond those conditions to allot state grants to attend community and technical schools, the reasons to support this bill are self-evident.
West Virginia has among the lowest education attainment rates in the nation. Even worse, it has the nation’s lowest workforce participation rate.
And it’s certainly not news to anyone that young people migrate from our state in droves after high school for lack of opportunity.
There’s also a critical disparity between the needs of too many employers and the skills of much of our workforce.
Then add to all that the devastating drug abuse that often entices the young into its grim clutches out of desperation.
Tennessee’s governor, also a Republican who recently steered similar legislation to success, said, “The best jobs plan is an education plan.”
We couldn’t agree more. Some will surely claim this is part and parcel of a liberal or socialist agenda, but that’s nonsense.
It’s about giving young people hope for their future while helping to advance our state’s economy in a different direction.
West Virginia’s workforce is still not positioned to adapt to a future beyond coal, despite the industry’s decline over the past decade.
This bill has the potential to change that while providing an opportunity for the next generation to achieve some of the best things in life.
No, all those things are not free. That’s a no-brainer, too.
But this gives a lot of young people a real chance to work for them.