In a 95-2 vote, the West Virginia House of Delegates furthered a state constitutional amendment that would replace who ultimately controls what students are required to learn and other matters, like how charter schools are regulated.
The amendment would give the final say to the state Legislature itself, and take the final call away from the state Board of Education.
That unelected board is comprised of governors’ appointees, who are confirmed by the state Senate. Once confirmed, they get to serve nine-year-long terms without lawmakers or even governors being able to replace them over political or policy disagreements.
The state school board passes policies that, unlike for nearly all other state agencies, cannot be changed or rejected by lawmakers. Court decisions have suggested state board policies could even trump some state laws regarding education.
State board policies deal with numerous topics, including teacher certification, student discipline, charter schools and learning standards — like what students must learn in social studies or science classes.
The House didn’t even debate the proposed amendment on the full House floor Tuesday before passing it.
The Legislature is currently dominated by Republicans. But 20 of the 23 House Democrats also voted for House Joint Resolution 1, which would put the proposed amendment before voters for their approval or rejection.
Delegate Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, was the only Democrat to vote no, while Delegates John Doyle, D-Jefferson, and Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, were absent for the vote. Doyle said previously he supports the change.
One Republican voted against it, Tony Paynter, R-Wyoming, and one was absent, House Education Committee Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer.
The Senate now has to decide whether to approve House Joint Resolution 1, before it can get onto an election ballot.
The state board, at its Tuesday meeting, discussed the proposed amendment.
Heather Hutchens, general counsel for the state Department of Education, said the Legislature has under the constitution provided for education through “a framework” and funding.
“Constitutional amendments are rather extraordinary acts that are not done frequently, and the impact of it would be to potentially change that paradigm, to make the interplay greater — greater responsibility for the Legislature to be involved in those decisions that have been historically reserved to the state board,” she said.