Voters in West Virginia rejected four proposed amendments to the state constitution Tuesday, including two that would have given the Republican-dominated legislature more power to regulate public education policy and certain taxes.
Other failed amendments would have prohibited the state Supreme Court intervention in the Legislature’s impeachment trials and allowed churches to incorporate.
West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee praised the outcome on the education and tax amendments, saying West Virginia voters “clearly saw through the power grab from the legislature” to “continue their assault on public education and education employees.”
“Local control is one of the cornerstones of our county government and local school system,” said Lee, head of the state’s largest public educators’ union. “Rejecting the proposed amendments will allow that local control to continue.”
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Amendment 4 on Tuesday’s ballot would have required 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.
The vote came 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.
GOP lawmakers who supported the amendment said 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.
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But the change was opposed by teachers’ unions and other top education officials who said 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.
Four years after more than 30,000 school workers went on strike in one of the nation’s poorest states, igniting teacher walkouts nationwide, many said they’re overworked and exhausted.
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Additionally, Republican Gov. Jim Justice and GOP state legislative leaders clashed over Amendment 2, which would have given state lawmakers the ability to eliminate a business and inventory tax along with the personal property vehicle tax.
Justice, who wants to cut — and eventually eliminate — the state income tax instead, toured the state to urge voters to reject the proposal. He said the passage of the amendment could harm schools, cities and counties and give companies large tax breaks.
Top lawmakers asserted that the amendment would attract economic and business development to the state.
Speaking in a video posted to Facebook on Tuesday after votes were counted, Justice said if Amendment 2 had passed, it “could have been really bad.”
“We would have been upside down … The police, the firemen, your schools, the seniors, the sports leagues, on and on and on and on,” he said.
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He said his priority for the upcoming legislative session will be to find a pathway to cut the personal income tax as well as the car tax.
“Who won tonight was absolutely hands down the people — the people won,” he said. “And who lost? Who lost unequivocally? Selfishness lost.”