The West Virginia Legislature's weekend passage of the fiscal year 2021-22 state budget includes funding for a second Mountaineer Challenge Academy in Montgomery.

In his January State of the State address, Gov. Jim Justice announced that his administration had secured $3.3 million to fund the establishment of a second Mountaineer Challenge Academy (MCA) and Mountaineer Job Challenge Program (MJCP), utilizing part of the former WVU Tech campus.

"The work the National Guard has done with the Challenge Academy and the Job Challenge Program at Camp Dawson in Preston County is off the charts," Justice said at the time. "They've graduated 4,663 kids and the number of lives that have been changed for the better is absolutely amazing."

Once it gets started in Montgomery, a class will train and mentor at-risk youth ages 16-18 to become contributing members of society in a quasi-military environment using the eight core components of academic excellence: physical fitness, leadership/followership, responsibility, citizenship, job skills, service to the community, health and hygiene, and life coping skills. The program length is 22 weeks in residence, with a one-year post-residential follow-up program.

The youths who graduate will also earn a high school diploma from their home high school through a pathways option approved by the West Virginia Department of Education, a January press release from the governor noted.

"We (Senate and House, my team and myself) did it," Justice said in a more recent press release. "A reduced budget from last year, absolutely economically sound, and we really have helped our families. All of this together will bring more and more jobs and opportunities to our people.

"On the first day of the legislative session, I laid out a vision for West Virginia's future that put our families first. Today, on the last day of the session, I would like to congratulate and thank the members of the West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates for working with me to pass the most family-friendly budget in the history of our great state.

"Working alongside my team at the Department of Revenue, we found more than $30 million, much of which we're going to use to help with the day-to-day expenses for our incredible foster parents — to make sure they have what they need to carry on the important work they do, caring for some of our most vulnerable kids."

The budget includes money needed to expand the MCA to the Montgomery location "so our West Virginia National Guard can continue their efforts to change the lives of at-risk youths across the state," Justice said.

In an email, Sen. Stephen Baldwin, a Democrat representing District 10, acknowledged the Challenge Academy funding surviving in the budget package.

"It's been a long road to get here," Baldwin said. "The National Guard has been interested in expanding for years, but the issue has been location, timing and funding.

"It all came together finally. The funds in the budget will get the campus off the ground. Renovations will be necessary."

The aim is to secure federal military funding to help operate the facility annually, Baldwin said.

"In terms of impact, I think it's important in a couple ways," he continued. "One, the UKV needed a win. And this is a win. To have a military school with such a stellar record in town provides long-term stability.

"Two, it will positively impact the local economy in terms of construction, operation and families visiting their kids. Three, and most importantly, it's a proven method of helping young people get on track. They'll remember the experience their whole lives and want to give back. I think the community will embrace the opportunity and help nurture these young people."

The southern campus is slated to occupy the former WVU Tech's Maclin Hall and student union buildings and will also utilize the Baisi Athletic Center with the Upper Kanawha Valley YMCA, Justice said in January.

The newly-approved budget also provides funding to eliminate the IDD waiver waitlist, which will allow 1,060 additional West Virginians, including more than 600 children, to receive "critical services to help them live their everyday lives," Justice said. Also, the budget will fund the Department of Education's Backpack Program and will include extra money for food banks and the Bureau of Senior Services.

The budget will also lead to expansion of the Communities In Schools program into new counties, Justice said, as well as funding the Jobs & Hope program, which allows West Virginians suffering from drug addiction or other barriers to employment to get treatment and training that might help them secure a job.

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