RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Virginia House of Delegates has passed a bill with strong bipartisan support that would allow local governments to request elected school boards.
Most Virginians are probably used to seeing school board elections on their local ballots every few years, but in 14 of the commonwealth’s 131 school divisions, board members are instead appointed by county leadership and residents have no direct say in who oversees education.
Under current law, counties and cities with appointed school boards can only transition to elected boards following a referendum started by a petition signed by 10% of all registered voters in the division.
That can be a burdensome process for localities that wish to fast-track the transition to an elected board.
Delegate Wendell Walker (R-Lynchburg) told a House committee earlier in the session that the bill was inspired by an effort in his own district.
“Lynchburg is the only one within our region that still has appointed school boards, and there was an attempt two years ago to put this on the ballot through the referendum process,” he said.
That process ultimately failed, but Walker emphasized that his bill wouldn’t force localities to give up their appointed boards, just give boards of supervisors and city councils the option to call for a referendum themselves.
“My bill simply just gives another option by which remaining localities can place this measure on the ballot,” Walker said.
The issue has attracted controversy in places like Hanover County, where the call for an elected school board has been just one part of the local NAACP chapter’s push for reform of the local education system.
The bill ultimately passed with overwhelming bipartisan support on the House floor. Because there is no identical bill in the Senate, it will now have to pass the other chamber during the crossover process near the end of this year’s session.
Though the bill passed by a comfortable margin, it attracted some opposition from strange corners of the House, with both deep-red conservative Delegate John McGuire (R-Powhatan) and progressive Democrat Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) voting against it.
Southampton County voters passed a referendum in November to change the method of selecting board members from appointment by the school board selection commission to direct election by voters.