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Confrontation is coming

Nuclear war is avoidable, as humankind has proven since 1945 — but a confrontation between the West Virginia Legislature and the state Board of Education may be inevitable.

Both sides understand that would provoke a major state constitutional crisis to be resolved by the West Virginia Supreme Court. The court’s five justices, who seem to see the fight coming, won’t talk about how they might rule.

The battle royale may be coming more quickly than you think.

As I’ve written previously, the issue is whether our state constitution gives ultimate power over public schools to the board or to the Legislature.

Defenders of the education establishment insist the board has the final say — and cannot be overriden by lawmakers. They point to a line in the constitution stating that, “The general supervision of the free schools of the State shall be vested in the West Virginia board of education which shall perform such duties as may be prescribed by law.”

But that “prescribed by law” phrase is found elsewhere in constitutional provisions on schools. Legislators make the law — and that would seem to give them authority over the board. A previous state Supreme Court ruling on the matter sided with the state board, however.

No court test of the matter would occur if board members, state Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine and legislators were all on the same page. They aren’t, as lawmakers showed when they enacted a bill authorizing charter schools.

Board members could have set up a showdown by challenging that in court, but they didn’t. In fact, they and Paine seem to want to avoid a confrontation.

Just a few days ago, during a House of Delegates Education Committee hearing, Paine asked lawmakers to avoid a challenge.

“More than ever, we need stability in the system right now, and I would appreciate you working with us to do that,” Paine said.

But he and board members have a strange way of seeking non-intervention. On a fairly regular basis, they suggest crazy changes in how West Virginia children are educated. One example is a proposal — which may not be finalized — on social studies class requirements to graduate from high school. Among other objectionable features, it would eliminate world history as a mandated class.

Many more of those, and some legislators will run out of patience.

Some already have. A bill introduced in the state Senate this year would, if enacted, ban the state board from adopting “any national or regional testing program or academic curriculum standards tied to federal funding without approval granted by an act of the Legislature.” Included in SB 19 is language meant to emphasis who’s boss. It states, in part, that “it is clearly within the Legislature’s authority to mandate, at any level of specificity, appropriate academic standards to be adopted by the state board.”

Another measure, House Joint Resolution 102, seeks a constitutional amendment that would leave no doubt the Legislature has authority over the state Board of Education.

I doubt proposals such as SB 19 and HJR 102 will gain much traction. This is an election year, after all, and no one wants to rock boats. But clearly, many legislators are running out of patience.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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