State Lawmakers Decide to Shut Down Dept. of Education, Arts


West Virginia just underwent the longest teachers’ strike in the state’s history. According to The Hill, after a nine-day strike that closed schools across all 55 of the state’s counties, teachers received a 5 percent pay raise for all government employees “and a commission to deal with issues with the Public Employees Insurance Agency.”

“We do believe this is what we were looking for, based on the announcement,” Kym Randolph, spokeswoman for the West Virginia Education Association, told reporters on Tuesday morning.

“All three parties — the House, the Senate and the governor — have agreed to the changes that will need to be made to the budget to get to 5 percent.”

Unfortunately, this didn’t really solve much in a larger sense. West Virginia’s finances are a bloody mess; a 2016 report by Truth in Accounting put the state’s debt at $16 billion, over $15,000 per taxpayer in a state where the median income per household is under $40,000. Closing schools across the state for nine days only to give in to public sector union demands didn’t exactly make things much better.

Liberals blame low taxes which the state’s Democrat leaders used to lure businesses there — kind of an important thing in a state not exactly known for its streets paved with gold. Conservatives have blamed the state’s woes on spending on stuff like — well, public sector union demands.

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Regardless, money had to be saved somehow. So, on Saturday, the state legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill which dismantled the state’s Department of Education and Arts.

And, with a certainty that you could set your watch by (if you’re the type that still uses watches), liberals began vigorously protesting the utter indignity of cutting a single dollar of arts funding.

“The bill passed the state House by a vote of 60-36, with Democrats opposing the plan that they say will destroy public funding for the arts in the state,” The Hill reported.

“This is going to destroy arts in West Virginia,” Delegate Larry Rowe, a Democrat said. “Always, always the first thing to be cut is the arts.”

Do you think West Virginia is making the right move?

I’ll resist the snide remarks about “arts in West Virginia” that originally came to mind except to point out that I could only identify one artist from West Virginia in Wikipedia’s list of them and the only musician I could identify from that site’s list was Brad Paisley. I believe we, as a nation, could have suffered the loss of “Whiskey Lullaby” and “American Saturday Night.” It would have been tough, but I truly believe we would have made it through together.

The Department of Education and the Arts was established in 1989, according to West Virginia Metro News. And it’s certainly been a success; after all, the state now currently has a C- rating from EdWeek’s ranking of all fifty states by educational achievement. In all fairness, the Department of Education and the Arts has only been around for 29 years. I’m sure year 30 will be the charm.

This is the problem with the liberal fantasy of government, particularly when it comes to public schools: they’ve let their dreams, their demands and pet their programs determine their cost structure, not the other way around. Don’t get me wrong, I have no animus against the arts. I’m a dual major in creative writing and media studies. Arts are important — when and if you can afford them.

In West Virginia, they cannot. Given the financial state of Virginia’s penurious cousin, it seems unlikely they could even afford what they just gave their teachers and public sector employees.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t law yet. Republican Gov. Jim Justice says he’s still weighing the options.

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Meanwhile, Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin — currently embroiled in a re-election campaign of his own — is weighing in on this, too. Not because of his deep concern for the Mountain State, mind you. Manchin was governor when a lot of of this mess was in its incipient stages. Predictably, he did little to stop the oncoming financial train, but he has plenty to say about it now.

“Sadly, just like in Washington, it looks like political gamesmanship is winning the day & preventing a bipartisan compromise led by the Governor to help our educators & public employees, fix our PEIA system & get students learning again from becoming law,” Manchin said in a series of early March tweets..

“I urge the Senate Republican leadership to stop playing games and send our kids back to school.”

Untangling this tangled strand of nonsense is too much for one night, so let me just say this: If West Virginia wants to retain the arts, they ought to have planned better financially. I have nothing but sympathy for children and young adults in West Virginia who want to pursue a career in the arts but can’t; it’s not their fault. Rather, it’s the fault of politicians who wanted it all and ended up with a mess.

As for the Department of Education part of the matter, it’s been around for thirty years and — as we can see from the EdWeek ranking — it hasn’t exactly done a stellar job. Why waste money on a bureaucracy that clearly provides little outward value.

West Virginia needs to focus on the basics — preparing their children for life in the real world. Arts is great. Arts is important. But let’s be clear: The state of West Virginia has lost the ability to pay for it, and the unions and the Democrats have no one to blame but themselves.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture