The fight over education in West Virginia has been a bitter one.
Republican leadership worked hard to impose charter schools on the state against the will of many education professionals, and ultimately succeeded. It seems, however, that even though they got what they were fighting for, there are still sore feelings in Charleston.
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, (R-Clay), has removed Del. Mark Dean, (R-Mingo), as vice chairman of the Education Committee.
On its surface, this seems a confusing choice. Dean hails from the same party as Hanshaw and has served as a teacher and administrator for decades. Dean is currently a principal and brings a depth of knowledge to matters affecting education. Why would Hanshaw remove someone from his own party who clearly has the experience to make meaningful contributions to a committee on education?
Dean, who has an understanding of the education system and the issues faced therein, broke party lines and voted against the omnibus education bill.
A statement from American Federation of Teachers – West Virginia President Fred Albert seems to agree with this theory.
“It’s a sad day for representative government in West Virginia when such a knowledgeable, fair legislator is removed from his leadership position on the education committee for representing his constituents and their concerns rather than blindly following a platform driven by out of state corporate donors,” Albert said.
This seems to be one more example in the fight over education that illustrates the toxic partisan politics that have trickled down from that national stage. A representative who has experience and knowledge over many of the delegates who happily voted in favor of the bill is being dismissed for voting in the way his experience told him would be best for the state and for his constituents.
The message being sent by Hanshaw is clear: stand with the party or be dismissed. This is not how government should operate at any time, involving any issue. This is antithetical to healthy debate and discussion. This is a dangerous, tribal, groupthink mentality that opens a path for disastrous decisions made because others are afraid to stand against the majority party.
Dean, objectively, has more education experience than Hanshaw, who studied law. But Hanshaw not only ignored Dean’s expertise, he punished him for it.
After the actions we’ve seen in Charleston over the past year, we unfortunately can’t even say this is surprising. The original education bill was drafted behind closed doors without any input from education professionals, but plenty of input from out-of-state charter school lobbyists. It was forced out of committee and into a vote by means not used in decades. It was finally — and rightfully — defeated before Republicans all but cloned it and forced it through the Legislature anyway.
Their behavior has been, at almost every turn, disgraceful and unbecoming of political leaders. We elect our representatives to make the best decisions for out state, consulting experts and reviewing all possible facts to do so. Instead, we have this. Petulant, stubborn men who sell their state out and punish those who dare to speak out against them.
We only hope West Virginians start paying attention and make their voices heard on Election Day. The circus has to end.