The West Virginia Board of Education consists of 11 members, including the state superintendent of schools and the chancellor of higher education. Both the latter are ex officio members, not entitled to vote. The other nine members, who must be citizens of the state, are appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the state Senate, for overlapping terms of nine years. No more than five of the appointed members may belong to the same political party, and none may hold any other public office or public employment.
The Board of Education sets policy for elementary and secondary schools, selects the state superintendent of schools, and makes rules for carrying into effect laws and policies relating to education. The state superintendent of schools manages the West Virginia Department of Education in compliance with the policies of the Board of Education. Additionally, the board oversees the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, located at Romney. Prior to 1969, the Board of Education also governed West Virginia’s public colleges and universities except West Virginia University, which had its own board of governors.
For more than 30 years, the West Virginia superintendent of schools operated independently and without professional assistance. In 1905, the legislature created a four-member Board of Examiners, appointed by the superintendent, to hold examinations and issue teacher certificates. In 1908, the legislature replaced the Board of Examiners with a state Board of Education.
The first Board of Education was appointed by the state superintendent and was composed of the superintendent and five persons engaged in educational work. This board not only examined teachers but also prescribed courses of study. In 1919, the legislature abolished that board and created a new seven member Board of Education. A later amendment to the constitution changed the membership of the board to nine members, appointed by the governor.
Significantly, a 1958 amendment to the constitution gave the state board the responsibility for general supervision of free schools, transferring that responsibility from the state superintendent. Also, the state superintendent was changed from an elective position to an appointment by the board, substantially reducing the power and independence of the office.
In 1989, Governor Gaston Caperton proposed a constitutional amendment that would have removed the state Board of Education from the state constitution, placing public education under the new Department of Education and the Arts. This would have given the governor and legislators more control over the Board of Education, a virtually autonomous branch of government. The amendment was defeated in a special election in September 1989.
The first woman to serve on the state Board of Education was Lenna Lowe Yost of Morgantown, appointed by Governor Morgan in 1921. Except for 1957 through 1960, at least one woman has been on the board since Yost was selected. The Board of Education meets monthly.
This Article was written by Judie Smith