Over the last few months, I’ve been all over the state talking to parents, teachers, firefighters, local elected officials from both parties, and small business owners about the harm that would be done to our state if two constitutional amendments on the November 8 ballot are approved.
Amendments 2 and 4 would take power over important local schools and public services away from voters, communities, and education experts and give it to partisan politicians in the Legislature. The all-but-certain result will be layoffs for teachers and emergency responders, larger class sizes, longer wait times for 911 calls, and more political fights in the classroom. To stand up for local control, for our schools, and for the seniors, workers, and families who rely on local services, we have to vote No.
Amendment 2 would remove nearly a century of constitutional protections that give voters the ultimate say over local funding for schools and public services, and give that control over local revenues to state lawmakers. The Legislature has already made clear their plans of what they’ll do with their newfound power over our school and county funding: give out hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts to out-of-state corporations.
Amendment 4 would strip power over school policy and curriculum away from the nonpartisan education experts who work with parents and local school boards to make decisions and give that power to state legislators as well. This would effectively make our classrooms another battlefront for competing political agendas.
Both of these proposals reek of politics. Proponents of these amendments want to politicize our schools and take critical funding away from them, along with our fire departments and emergency services, all to give a big tax cut to their corporate donors.
If these amendments pass, Raleigh County Schools could lose over $7 million annually and the county and municipalities could lose a collective $5.5 million annually, putting at risk our fire departments, first responders, and parks and libraries. Passage would mean fewer school resources like counselors, vocational education programs, and summer camps; and a reduced ability for parents to have a say in school decisions. And they could harm our local economy, by forcing layoffs of firefighters, EMTs, teachers, and other public servants in Beckley and all across the state. In Raleigh County, residents have already decided that our schools and fire services are a priority by passing excess levies to increase funding for them to provide us with the services we need – and these amendments could overrule our vote by taking funding and authority away from us – costing us up to $790,000 a year out of our excess fire levy.
While some proponents have suggested that the state legislature could use the one-time revenue surplus to offset the losses that schools and local governments see as a result of Amendment 2, we all know that surpluses are temporar – making the state’s promise to local governments temporary, too.
States across the country are expecting revenues to decline over the next year as federal Covid relief ends, and West Virginia will be no different. When the surplus dries up, some have already suggested that eventually they’d raise property taxes on our homes or the sales tax on the goods we buy – both of which fall more heavily on local families and small business owners than the taxes that would be eliminated through Amendment 2, which mostly benefit big, out-of-state corporations.
Opposition to these proposals is broad and bipartisan. Anyone who understands the importance of local control over schools and county budgets knows this can only harm our communities, from Gov. Jim Justice to the Raleigh County Board of Education and County Commission and the West Virginia NAACP.
Amendments 2 and 4 were put forth by politically-connected special interests. The folks I’ve been talking to in communities across the state – voters, teachers, firefighters, sheriffs, and parents – are the ones who’d see their voices, and even jobs, lost if these amendments pass. We should keep our power in our communities and not give away our own ability to make sure we have what we need in our schools and for the public services we all benefit from. Vote no on 2 and 4 on November 8.
— Kelly Allen is the executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.