Justice should sign bill on his desk
Even as former Gov. Gaston Caperton was persuading West Virginia legislators many years ago to create a new Department of Education and the Arts, critics suggested the agency was not needed. Its functions could be handled more efficiently through then-existing arms of state government, it was pointed out.
We have been among those critics for many years. The department is an unnecessary layer of duplicative bureaucracy.
Gov. Jim Justice has on his desk a bill, HB 4006, that would eliminate the department. Its functions would be distributed to other agencies.
Unfortunately, politics has been injected into the matter.
Gayle Manchin, a longtime member of the state Board of Education and the wife of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., served as secretary of the Department of Education and the Arts until Monday She opposed HB 4006.
Apparently because of her method of urging that Justice veto the bill, he fired her this week.
Gayle Manchin believes HB 4006 was politically motivated. Both chambers of the Legislature are controlled by Republicans. The governor is a Republican, though he was a Democrat when he appointed her to the post in January 2017.
Virtually anything that happens in the Capitol complex has some political ramifications. How strong a factor politics was in this case, we don’t know.
But, again, the department has been the subject of sharp criticism for decades. Calls to eliminate it in the name of better government efficiency are not new.
Gayle Manchin has some valid concerns about existing programs under the department’s supervision. Some of them, such as the Governor’s Honors Academy for young students and the Center for Professional Development of educators, are very important. Extreme care needs to be taken to ensure they do not suffer from a transition in oversight.
But Justice should sign the bill to eliminate the department and save taxpayers a few dollars. Politics aside, such action is long overdue.