CHARLESTON, W. Va. – The state legislature could put a decision on partisanship in local board of education races in the hands of voters in November.
The House of Delegates Education Committee on Thursday approved a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would remove language requiring local school board competitions to be nonpartisan. West Virginia voters would consider a constitutional amendment in this year’s general election, and any change would take effect in future election cycles.
The committee vote was a voice vote, in which most lawmakers shared their support for moving the measure forward.
Proponents argued that featuring party identification in school board contests would help voters better understand the candidates.
“I remind you that we are a representative Republican because the voters do not have time. They’re not politics junkies, many of them unfortunately,” said delegate Todd Longanacre, R-Greenbrier. “They have families, they have jobs, sometimes two jobs. It is up to us to then put ourselves on a council, on a commission, on a municipal council in order to represent these people and be their voice.
Longanacre noted that voters already consider party affiliation when voting for other local candidates like city council members and county commissioners.
“It’s good to know what their political leanings are before you put them in those positions, and I would like to know what the political leanings and [values] and the ideologies are those of our school board members,” he said. “It’s no different.”
Other Republicans voiced support for the amendment, saying voters should make the final decision.
Democratic lawmakers and education officials have worried about whether the change will lead to further politicization of the contests, citing intense current sentiments about state and national politics.
“In DC and here in Charleston, it’s partisan. It’s like that. it’s the system and it works sometimes,” said delegate Cody Thompson, D-Randolph. “I just don’t agree with making these local-level decision-makers more partisan and creating more controversy than necessary.”
“I understand there’s a big umbrella here, but it seems to go way beyond that,” said delegate Danielle Walker, D-Monongalia.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said the change could result in electoral contests being driven by political sentiments rather than goals of improving education.
“Councils should be there for the betterment of children and the school system,” he said. “If it’s a non-partisan race, from what I’ve seen voters really become more immersed in finding out about candidates and people.”
The House Judiciary Committee will then consider the proposal.
Two-thirds of both legislative chambers must approve an amendment before the question is put on the ballot.