By Matthew Young, RealWV
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Despite Amendment 4’s resounding defeat at the ballot box last November, House Republicans have not given up the fight to establish legislative control over the state’s public education system.
House Joint Resolution (HJR) 17, first introduced on Jan. 24 by Del. Laura Kimble, R-Harrison, seeks to transition two-thirds of the nine-member State Board of Education into elected offices, leaving only three appointed members. Currently, all nine board members are appointed by the governor, and confirmed by the Senate. Each board member is appointed for a nine-year term. Under HJR 17, terms would be reduced to a six-year period.
As further stated in the text of HJR 17, “The West Virginia board of education shall, in the manner prescribed by law, select the state superintendent of free schools who shall serve at its will and pleasure.” While this is consistent with the manner in which a superintendent is currently selected, establishing partisanship within the board of education would ensure that the appointment of the “chief school officer of the state” carries political implications.
On Feb. 16, the House Education Committee amended HJR 17 to include the following statement:
“In the performance of its supervisory duties, the West Virginia Board of Education may promulgate rules which shall be submitted to the Legislature for its review and approval, amendment or rejection, in whole or in part, in the manner prescribed by general law.”
This language was taken – nearly word for word – from last year’s proposed Amendment 4, the “Education Accountability Amendment.” On Nov. 8, 57% of West Virginians voted against granting legislators control of the state’s public education system. However, seemingly in contrast to the will of the voters, some Republican lawmakers still appear committed to the task of wresting control of the education system away from educators.
It should be noted that the primary difference between a joint resolution and a bill is that a joint resolution does not require approval by the governor to become law. Typically, a joint resolution is the first action taken by the legislature in preparation of a change to the State’s Constitution. As HJR 17 has been introduced in this manner, it would seem to indicate that House Republicans will once again attempt to take control of West Virginia’s public education system through a future constitutional amendment.
In an unrelated meeting of the Senate Education Committee, and while speaking about a bill mandating that public schools teach lessons about historical genocides (SB 216), Sen. Laura Chapman, R-Ohio, said, “I have a problem when unelected people don’t necessarily have some guidance, because we all are elected, and if people don’t like what we are doing, they can remove us. So, that’s why I think we do have the right to put on mandates for public schools.”
With current proposed legislation designed to allow concealed handguns in elementary, middle and high school buildings, and the teaching of “intelligent design,” as well as the creation of the charter school stimulus fund and expansion of the Hope Scholarship program – all in spite of the direct objections from professional educators – the overwhelming defeat of Amendment 4 has apparently done little to slow the legislature’s attempt at a hostile takeover of West Virginia’s public education system.
HJR 17 is currently awaiting review by the House Judiciary Committee. RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of HJR 17 as additional information is made available.