More than 155 years ago, West Virginia’s constitutional framers met and labored extensively to create the foundation for a government for this beautiful new state, born out of conflict.
In the state Constitution’s preamble, they set the tone for exactly what they envisioned:
“Since through Divine Providence we enjoy the blessings of civil, political and religious liberty, we, the people of West Virginia, in and through the provisions of this Constitution, reaffirm our faith in and constant reliance upon God and seek diligently to promote, preserve and perpetuate good government in the state of West Virginia for the common welfare, freedom and security of ourselves and our posterity.”
There are, quite honestly, some concepts that should never lose their meaning — the primary among these should be to “promote, preserve, and perpetuate good government in the state of West Virginia.”
However, I believe some events that have taken place throughout 2017 have shown those words are starting to lose their meaning.
When the Legislature convenes next month, I plan to propose a constitutional amendment to help ensure that the state Board of Education and the state superintendent of schools will act as provided by law, and not outside of it.
My goal is to ensure that no county, anywhere, should ever again fear their will would be supplanted by unelected bureaucrats in Charleston.
The West Virginia Board of Education is given its authority in Article 12 of the West Virginia Constitution, and in the Constitution, they are granted “duties as may be prescribed by law.” What about where law and need haven’t been prescribed?
There’s not much of a need to relitigate what got us to this point: The Nicholas County Board of Education, a body that is duly elected by the citizens of Nicholas County, made a decision. Those who disagreed appealed to the West Virginia Board of Education, which overturned the decision of the Nicholas County board.
Two court sessions later, the decision remained the same. The will of the West Virginia Board of Education was deemed to be supreme to the will of the Nicholas County Board of Education.
Instead of leaving these decisions up to the representatives elected by the people of Nicholas County, the state Board of Education took it upon itself to act beyond its duties prescribed by law. The Supreme Court’s subsequent actions further expanded the state board’s powers well beyond, I believe, what the authors of the Constitution intended.
The precedent that has been set should strike fear into the hearts of any county board of education in West Virginia: The citizens of your county who elected you do not matter if the state Board of Education in Charleston has a different idea about how your county should operate. The concept of a representative republic has been obliterated here.
While it is too late to fully change the course of events in Nicholas County, we will provide citizens the opportunity to prevent this situation from happening elsewhere. It is imperative that the rule of law means something. It is the Legislature’s duty to ensure our agencies operate within the rule of law.
The West Virginia Board of Education clearly stepped over its own policies and violated them regarding its decision with Nicholas County, but under our current system, who watches the watchers? The answer is nobody, and I believe it’s time for that to change.