It’s a headline that’s ricocheted around social media all weekend: West Virginia’s dumping its Department of Education just days after giving its striking teachers a pay raise.
It conjures up images of heartless lawmakers sticking it to heroic educators who simply stood up for their jobs. But that’s not really accurate.
Over the weekend, West Virginia lawmakers did indeed pass legislation that would eliminate a state department – the Department of Education and Arts. See, the confusion comes from the fact that West Virginia has a Department of Education AND a Department of Education and Arts.
What’s the difference? The Department of Education, like most education departments in other states, basically runs the state’s K-12 schools.
The Department of Education and Arts is more focused on cultural matters. It seeks to preserve and reinforce the state’s cultural and artistic heritage and is responsible for the state’s public libraries, public broadcasting, volunteer projects and other programs.
The bill that would end the Department of Education and Arts heads to the desk of Republican Gov. Jim Justice for his signature. It’s not clear at this time if he will sign it or veto it.
‘Always the first thing to be cut’
Getting rid of the Department of Education and Arts will save the state around $750,000 a year, state Sen. Robert Karnes, a Republican, told CNN affiliate WOWK.
Karnes said the elimination of the department won’t wipe out any of its programs but will instead cut down on bureaucracy and increase efficiency.
“Some things expand, some things have to contract in order to make everything fit within that budget, because we do have to have a balanced budget,” Karnes said.
But opponents of the bill fear it’ll be bad news for the arts.
“This is going to destroy arts in West Virginia,” Del. Larry Rowe, a Democrat, told West Virginia Metro News. “Always, always the first thing to be cut is the arts.”
Another Democrat, state Sen. Mike Romano, said getting rid of the department could cost the state $30 million in grants.
If the Department of Education and Arts is indeed eliminated, many of its programs will be spun off and moved to – the Department of Education.
The confusion over which department would be cut was heightened by the fact that last week teachers and lawmakers agreed to a deal that gave a 5% pay raise to state teachers, school staff and police, ending a nine-day strike.