CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I noticed a spike in excitement as football season approached. I saw an increase in people wearing blue and gold and kelly green. I always like to see the Mountaineers and Thundering Herd win. I support both teams because I am lucky to have a degree from both schools. But, I think our state has overlooked the most significant part of intercollegiate and high school sports: the students.
The cheapest ticket available for WVU vs.William and Mary was $63. The cheapest ticket available for the Herd against Miami of Ohio was $15. Besides the gate, football programs at our state universities produce revenue from TV, merchandise licensing, corporate sponsors, and (we all hope) bowl games. Basketball also produces money for both schools. By the way, the highest paid person in West Virginia is WVU Head Football Coach Dana Holgorsen who earns more than $2 million a year.
WVU and Marshall athletic events draw crowds and benefit local businesses like hotels, restaurants and bars. Many people are hired to sell beverages and programs. And they hire people to clean it all up, too. Sports, especially football, are a big deal in our state. However, none of this would exist without the schools and their students.
In 2003, tuition was $1,774 per semester for state residents at WVU. This year, state residents will pay $3,228 per semester. It costs much more for our children to get a college education because I'm not including room and board, books and other money needed. WVU and Marshall have had to increase their tuition because our state government has been cutting its financial support of higher education for years.
In every debate all politicians are asked what they think the role of government should be. Many have trouble with this question. A primary role of our state government is to provide a system of education for all state residents. Article XII, Section 12-1 of the West Virginia Constitution of 1872 states: "The Legislature shall provide, by general law, for a thorough and efficient system of free schools."
Our Legislature has failed to meet its constitutional requirement. Our schools, specifically higher education, are not free for state residents. County school systems are not funded equally to provide students with "a thorough and efficient system."
So, millions spent on football, for example, and less spent on education. This sums it all up. We fund our state public school system with personal property taxes collected through county school levies and state funds. The tax burden is on working people under the current system. The Promise Scholarship is funded with gaming money from the Lottery. Due to the increase of tuition resulting from state funding cuts to higher education, the Promise won't cover 100 percent for our state's most qualified students. So we're not keeping our promise to our children.
Who benefits? The answer is big banks and Wall Street. They benefit from the "for-profit" student loan industry that exploits our failure to provide West Virginia residents with a free education. Out-of-state vendors benefit as we privatize public education and send our hard-earned tax dollars to testing companies and consultants like McGraw Hill or Public Works LLC that did the recent Education Audit.
Who benefits from a free education? West Virginia college graduates who are freed from the burden of student loans and can keep more of their money in our communities. Workers who have been laid off and need retraining. Career changers benefit, too. The concept behind the West Virginia Department of Education's 21st Century Learning is that a "lifelong career" no longer exists. Obviously we need to be able to retrain our state's workforce on demand. Unemployed people don't have the money to go back to school.
Educational success for students should be based on ability, not ability to pay. So, here's my idea: We should add a fee to all college football game tickets, a special tax on all merchandise, and collect a percentage of TV money and bowl money that will be used to lower tuition for state residents at state supported colleges and universities.
If people are willing to pay $63 to watch a WVU or Marshall football game, they shouldn't mind $10 more.
Corporate sponsors should pay an added fee to help lower tuition costs, too. Don't want to pay more for football? Another way of funding education would be a per cubic foot of natural gas produced tax (along with drinking/well water protections) of the Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale natural gas reserves. Cut the personal property tax burden on working families and tax corporate profits instead, with all money collected going to a truly free education system for all West Virginians.
Montani Semper Liberi.
Park is a retired teacher from Kanawha County Schools and former president of American Federation of Musicians Local 136.