The House Finance Committee approved the bill that would allow the WV School Building Authority to take $19 million it currently receives from Excess Lottery Funds and leverage the money to sell bonds.

Executive Secretary Mark Manchin thinks the bill will pass this session.

The move could generate an additional $200-$250 million over six years for school construction projects.

There are currently 42 construction projects on the board that would cost more than $250 million, but the SBA has only $50 million available.

Manchin says getting extra cash doesn't necessarily mean there will be additional school consolidations in West Virginia, where much of the money has been spent in recent years.

Manchin, denying the power of the SBA over county school boards for consolidated projects, continued to say "That's left up to each individual county."

After years of wholesale school consolidations, Manchin told a Challenge WV conference that the state does not use an economies of scale model to close rural schools.

This week, Manchin said "In fact, we let counties know that we will look at small schools and that we advocate small schools," indicating the entire state won't be painted with a broad brush when it comes to the size of schools.

"We are going to recognize that small schools are very beneficial to children, but we also recognize that sometimes with older facilities and declining enrollment that we may have to close some schools. But that decision is going to be made at the local level, not the School Building Authority level," Manchin said.

Thomas Ramey, coordinator of Challenge WV, said "There are many school board members around WV that disagree with Dr. Manchin's statement," saying Challenge WV is trying to stop the closure of over 120 elementary schools to prevent long bus rides for the state's youngest students, some three and four years old.

Ramey said thousands of elementary children are currently riding buses over the state's guidelines, and thousands more are on school buses for over one-and-one-half hours one way.

"That decision was not likely made by a reasonable school board member who cares about children," Ramey said.

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