The 84th Legislative Session has finally begun, and although education hasn't been a huge topic in the process just yet, it's looking as if lawmakers have some ideas on what education-related topics they'd like to see as they move forward. 

Although the list of education-related bills is quite long, many education officials in the area are hoping some good will come of them, including Bonny Copenhaver, New River Community and Technical College's campus president. 

House Bill 2059 is of particular interest to Copenhaver. The bill, if passed in its original form, would expand the amount of PROMISE scholarship funds awarded to people majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). 

The PROMISE Scholarship is a merit-based financial aid program for West Virginia residents, and according to the College Foundation of West Virginia, the scholarship will pay $4,750 per year or the cost of tuition and mandatory fees, whichever is less, at any eligible institution. 

Although the PROMISE scholarship is helpful to some, it doesn't cover the yearly cost of tuition for most in-state residents. At Marshall University, an in-state undergraduate's tuition is around $4,206 per semester or $8,412 a year, and at West Virginia University, the cost per semester for an in-state resident is $4,448 – $8,896 for the full year. 

If House Bill 2059 passes, those who plan to go in a STEM-related field may receive more funds under the PROMISE Scholarship. 

Copenhaver told The Register-Herald that scholarships like PROMISE are necessary to make access to higher education more affordable for many residents in West Virginia.

"Investing in these and other scholarships that support continuing education creates a stronger workforce for the state's economy," she said. 

Copenhaver believes the West Virginia Invests Grant, which was passed during 2019's legislative session and allows for free tuition into the state's community and technical colleges, could go hand-in-hand with raising funds in the PROMISE Scholarship. 

"In order to complement an increase in the PROMISE scholarship for STEM majors, opening the doors of the West Virginia Invests Grant to STEM majors and other transfer programs would help advance the state’s college completion goals and support a stronger and well-trained workforce," she said. 

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The closure of smaller two- and four-year institutions in the state has been a topic among lawmakers and education officials for the last couple years; however, among talk of this year's session, WVU Tech's Campus President Carolyn Long hopes lawmakers understand the importance of all the institutions throughout the state. 

"We hope to continue to have productive conversations about the importance of two- and four-year institutions in the state," Long said. "We hope that there are no budget cuts to higher education, and we should collectively identify ways to support higher education so that more students can pursue their educational goals, here in West Virginia.

"We need to continue to work together so that we can best serve the students of our state," Long said. 

Del. Chris Toney, R-Raleigh, who is on the House of Delegates Education Committee, said he hopes for big things for education this session. 

"I would like to look into the higher education funding and how we can get more for our state dollars," Toney said. "I would also like to see more career and technology training in the eighth grade to help with truancy and get our students engaged to start a career before they lose interest."

Toney said he hopes his bill, House Bill 2719, is taken up this session, which would allow a bus rider in each resident of the county — someone who could ride along on the bus with the driver. 

"It would cost the state nothing and is voluntary for each county," Toney said. "If the county has money to pay drivers for training, then they will be able to."

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If education is a hot point of your interest during this year's session, here are education-related bills set to be introduced:

The West Virginia Senate

• Senate Bill 19 — Prohibiting State Board of Education from accepting federal education plans without legislative approval.

• Senate Bill 22 — Requiring county boards of education to provide free feminine hygiene products in grades six through 12.

• Senate Bill 38 — Requiring schools provide elective course on Hebrew Scriptures or Bible.

• Senate Bill 42 — Permitting faith-based electives in classroom drug prevention programs.

• Senate Bill 45 — Requiring teaching of agricultural science education course.

• Senate Bill 68 — Designating DHHR social workers to promote school attendance and performance.

• Senate Bill 85 — Providing up to $500 credit for teachers against personal income tax for nonreimbursed costs of supplies.

• Senate Bill 107 — Requiring satisfactory completion of class in personal finance to graduate from high school.

• Senate Bill 127 — Authorizing governing board of higher education institution to eliminate tenure for its faculty.

• Senate Bill 131 — Creating the Tim Tebow Act.

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The West Virginia House of Delegates

• House Bill 2002 — Education Savings Account Act.

• House Bill 2013 — Providing a bonus for teachers willing to teach in certain critical needs areas

• House Bill 2021 — Relating to relocation or closure of state higher education institutions.

• House Bill 2022 — Permitting county boards of education to accumulate instructional days and use them when needed.

• House Bill 2032 — Permitting the carrying of concealed weapons on the campus of a state institution of higher education.

• House Bill 2039 — requiring county boards of education to employ a certified library media specialist in each county school.

• House Bill 2059 — Expanding the amount of PROMISE scholarship funds awarded to people majoring in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. 

• House Bill 2098 — Home Instruction Tax Relief Act.

• House Bill 2100 — Establishing a pilot program to develop school-based mental and behavioral health services.

• House Bill 2322 — Providing a salary increase for special education teachers.

• House Bill 2327 — Relating to public school education in dating violence, domestic abuse and sexual violence prevention.

• House Bill 2345 — Developing a resource for use by parents to monitor and track deaf and hard-of-hearing children’s receptive and expressive language.

• House Bill 2367 — Developing a resource for use by parents to monitor and track deaf and hard-of-hearing children’s receptive and expressive language.

• House Bill 2395 — Providing school days to register and transport students to vote.

• House Bill 2397 – Requiring county school boards to provide adequate mental health and counseling services.

• House Bill 2433 — Modifying the school calendar to begin not earlier than Labor Day and end prior to Memorial Day.

• House Bill 2448 — Middle School Technical Education Program Act.

• House Bill 2606 — Requiring 30 minutes of unstructured play time daily for students in kindergarten through grade 5.

• House Bill 2632 — Tim Tebow Act.

• House Bill 2634 — Requiring school bus aides, who are trained in preventing bullying and providing a safe environment for students while being transported on a school bus, to be present on school buses.

• House Bill 2778 —Providing that school nutrition plans include take-home meals for low-income students.

• House Bill 3058 — Granting full-time employees of county boards of education three months of paid leave following the birth of a child.

• House Bill 3063 — Relating to a home instruction and private school tax credit.

• House Bill 4036 — Requiring the State Board of Education to develop curriculum content for a semester-long financial literacy course.

— Email: jnelson@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH

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