West Virginia governor calls special session for school funding amid FAFSA issues, other proposals

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is calling state lawmakers back to the Capitol to consider an $80 million allocation to the state’s colleges and universities to help students pay for school amid the ongoing federal financial aid crisis, among other proposals.

The Republican governor released a proclamation Friday for a special session beginning at 5 p.m. Sunday, when legislators are already convening at the state Capitol for May interim meetings.

The proclamation lists 15 items for the Legislature to consider and act on, including a $150 million proposal for highway maintenance , $50 million for a new state agricultural lab at West Virginia State University and more than $80 million to the state’s colleges and universities.

The $80 million would help provide funding for students affected by the Federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) crisis.

Students applying for college have been left in limbo this year as they await the Education Department’s overhaul of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The form, known as FAFSA, is used to determine eligibility for federal Pell Grants, and colleges and states use it to award their own financial aid to students. The update was meant to simplify the form but took months longer than expected. It gives colleges less time to make financial aid offers to students, and it gives students less time to decide where to enroll.

In April, Justice declared a state of emergency for education in the West Virginia, which he said will allow students to bypass a requirement that their FAFSA be processed by the federal government in order to receive state grants to help pay for school.

The governor was the first in the U.S. to take such a measure. West Virginia has the lowest number of college graduates in the nation, and the state’s high school FAFSA completion rates were down nearly 40%, Justice said.

“Really and truly, a lot of kids are sitting on the sidelines not wondering when the funding can come or whatever, they’re wondering, ‘Am I going to be able to go to college?’” he said during a news briefing.

He said the state of emergency would allow students to know whether they will receive the Promise Scholarship, a state merit scholarship equivalent to up to $5,500 for the 2024-2025 school year, or the needs-based Higher Education Grant. In-state tuition at the state’s flagship West Virginia University costs around $9,650 a year.

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