CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Voters in West Virginia will get the final say on four proposed constitutional amendments, including one that would give the Republican-dominated legislature control over virtually every aspect of public schooling.
Amendment 4 on Tuesday’s ballot would require the state Board of Education to submit new rules and regulations to the legislature annually for final approval. Currently, it’s the only government agency that’s exempt.
GOP lawmakers who support the amendment say people making decisions about things like curriculum, student discipline and teacher training should be accountable to voters. West Virginia’s governor-appointed and Senate-confirmed state school board members serve nine-year terms — the longest in any U.S. state — and can’t easily be removed.
The change is opposed by teachers’ unions and other top education officials who say lawmakers want power over education to further their political agendas. Education officials also maintain that lawmakers have no business taking over public schools when they’ve consistently failed to help them.
The vote comes amid a fight raging nationally over the politicization of schools. West Virginia’s Republican leaders have joined politicians elsewhere in pushing to regulate how subjects such as race are taught in classrooms and funnel public money into alternative education options, including charter schools and voucher programs.
Just this year, the state Board of Education joined a lawsuit against top Republicans over a school choice program — one of the nation’s most expansive — alleging it unconstitutionally drains money from public schools. The case went to the state Supreme Court, which sided with lawmakers.
Republican Gov. Jim Justice and GOP state legislative leaders have also clashed over Amendment 2, which would give state lawmakers the ability to eliminate a business and inventory tax along with the vehicle tax.
Justice, who wants to cut — and eventually eliminate — the state income tax instead, has toured the state to urge voters to reject the proposal. He says the passage of the amendment could harm schools, cities and counties and give companies large tax breaks.
Top lawmakers say the amendment will attract economic and business development to the state.
Amendment 1 would bar state courts from intervening in impeachment proceedings conducted by the legislature. Amendment 3 would erase a provision in the constitution that bars churches and religious denominations from being incorporated.