(a) The Legislature finds that the educational benefits of making a broader range of courses available to West Virginia students, and the economic benefits from continuing education and staff development for businesses, industry and the professions, are immeasurable and that distance learning technology offers an efficient means of delivering such education and personnel development courses. The Legislature further finds that distance learning technology requires a substantial financial investment and the acquisition and utilization of such technology should, therefore, be coordinated among the various affected agencies.
(b) To facilitate such coordination, there is hereby created a West Virginia distance learning coordinating council which shall be composed of one representative of each of the following: SatNet, EdNet, the educational broadcasting authority, the West Virginia Library Commission, the state Department of Education, the higher education central office, the Department of Administration's division of information systems and communications and the office of the secretary of education and the arts. The chair elected by the council shall serve a term of one year, at which time the council shall elect a new chair. A member of the council may not serve for more than two consecutive terms as chair, except by unanimous vote of the council.
The council shall meet at least quarterly and shall develop long-range plans to integrate the instructional telecommunications system, to coordinate distance learning in West Virginia and to clarify the roles of the agencies involved in the state's distance learning enterprise. The council shall submit an annual report to the Governor and the Legislature, which includes its recommendations for achieving the best use of limited resources in the development and operation of a distance learning technology system.
(c) A goal of the council is the creation of a statewide technology system linking universities and colleges, schools, libraries and, eventually, homes with software, databases and video learning capabilities. In pursuit of this goal, the council shall determine the most effective and efficient ways to integrate the capabilities of the state for producing, delivering and receiving electronic instruction and establish a comprehensive long-range plan to further the cooperation and coordination of the various educational and other agencies of the state, and the county boards of education, in establishing distance learning technology.
(d) There is hereby created in the state Treasury a special fund designated the "Distance Learning Fund" which shall be under the jurisdiction of the secretary of education and the arts for use solely for the purposes of the distance learning grant program as provided in this section.
Appropriate guidelines for participation by school districts, state institutions of higher education, public libraries and public broadcasting stations, in the grant program, shall be established by the distance learning coordinating council subject to approval by the Legislative Oversight commission on education accountability. Such guidelines shall include application procedures and shall establish policies for awarding grants in the event that more grant applications are received than there are funds available to honor the applications in any fiscal year. In allocating funds to applicants, the council may give due consideration to revenues available from all other sources. The state Board of Education shall approve courses offered through this program at the elementary and secondary education level. The higher education governing boards shall approve courses taught at the post-secondary level.
(e) In any fiscal year moneys in the fund shall be used first to ensure that any and all school districts, state institutions of higher education, public libraries and public television stations seeking aid under this program shall receive telecommunications equipment necessary to participate in the satellite learning process; second, to provide the school districts and state institutions of higher education with access to subjects at the advanced level or the remedial level or which are not taught in the schools of the district or the service area or campus; and third, to provide enrichment classes, continuing education and professional development. However, the council may set aside a portion of the funds to be used to contract with state institutions of higher education, state institutions of public education and public broadcasting stations to develop instructional programs for grades kindergarten through twelve. Funds may also be used for undergraduate and graduate course work suitable for broadcast to the school districts, state institutions of higher education, as appropriate, for continuing education and professional development for business and industry seminars and to develop the capability to transmit programs cited in this section.
(f) Participation by a local school district, a state institution of higher education, a public library or a public broadcasting station in the program established by this section shall be voluntary. No school district, state institution of higher education, public library or public broadcasting station receiving funds under this program shall use those funds for any purpose other than that for which they were intended. Any school district, state institution of higher education, public library or public broadcasting station shall be eligible to receive funds under this program regardless of its curriculum, local wealth or previous contractual arrangements to receive satellite broadcast instruction.
(g) The secretary of education and the arts on behalf of the State of West Virginia may contract with institutions of higher education and the state Board of Education for the development or operation, or both, of state employee training programs transmitted by telecommunications technology.
Instructional programs developed under this section which are transmitted one-way through the airwaves or by cable shall be available to all residents of this state without charge or fee to the extent permitted by the West Virginia Constitution. "Without charge or fee" shall not require the providing of equipment to transmit or receive telecommunications instruction or the providing of commercial cable service. If the instructional program involves two-way, interactive communication between the instructor and the participant, the district or institution operating the program may prescribe academic prerequisites and limit the number of persons who may enroll in the specific program and give preference to residents of the district or institutional attendance area who are age twenty-one or younger but shall not discriminate against any resident on any other basis. A fee may be charged which will be paid directly by the individual participant for the specific program, but the fee shall be equal for all such participants. If a subscription fee is charged by the originator of the program, the district or institution may pay the subscription fee for all participants from a grant under this section or from any other public or private fund legally authorized to be used for this purpose. Printed materials designed to facilitate or complement telecommunications programs or electronic reproduction thereof may be made available for loan by the school district, institution of higher education through the public library system or the curriculum technology resource center, subject to the normal rules and regulations of the lending system and in such quantities as may be approved by the governing body of the district or institution.