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Schools shouldn't rely on budget digest

West Virginia's budget digest for 2003-04 was officially announced recently, and those named to receive a portion of the $21 million in appropriations are now making plans to spend their share.

Among them are state schools and boards of education. But it shouldn't be that way; neither of the aforementioned should have to put any project on hold until the budget digest list of "winners" is released.

A total of $100 million in requests were made this year, but the list had to be whittled down to the state's available $21 million. In our own nine-county area, schools were the beneficiaries of about $745,000.

Banking on the state budget digest to fund school projects -- particularly when the funds are needed for basic, non-luxury work -- can be a risky undertaking. Pickens School in Randolph County, for example, needed $150,000 from the budget -- just to stay operational. Fortunately, the 44-student school received its request.

But what if it hadn't? What if the state's budget digest is lower next year? It's not an unrealistic consideration; the budget digest is already down from the $35 million for the 2002-03 year to the upcoming year's $21 million.

And isn't it possible that legislators could be politically motivated in the allocation of budget funds to schools? Certainly, there are instances in which monies are appropriated to counties for reasons other than need.

Education already accounts for more than 51 percent of the state's $3.03 billion budget for 2004, but school officials and lawmakers say it still isn't enough to properly fund school systems.

That may be true, but other funding avenues need to be explored instead of relying on the whims of legislators as they dole budget digest money.

When it comes to true education needs, officials shouldn't have to hold their collective breath and hope that their project will be among those to make the list. Education is too important to gamble on.

Kevin Courtney