Republican Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday that he’s appointed the No. 2 official in the West Virginia Department of Education as the acting secretary of the separate Department of Education and the Arts.
Deputy State Schools Superintendent Clayton Burch will take over the role, effective today. Justice fired Gayle Manchin, wife of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., from the position Monday.
Joe Manchin is running for re-election this year. Justice had appointed Gayle Manchin to the role back when the governor was registered as a Democrat, before Justice returned to the Republican Party.
Burch was still working for the Department of Education when Gayle Manchin was a member of the state Board of Education, which oversees the Department of Education.
The Department of Education had tweeted Monday that, should Justice sign HB4006, “ALL programs and services transferred to the Department of Education will be continued without disruption or loss of funding.”
The state Legislature completed passage of HB4006 Saturday, and Justice has yet to announce whether he will sign or veto it.
The bill would eliminate the Department of Education and the Arts and the position of its secretary, sending the department’s agencies elsewhere in state government, including to the Department of Education and Department of Commerce.
State Schools Superintendent Steve Paine wrote a letter dated Wednesday, March 7, the day the bill hit the full Senate floor, in which he told Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, that he believes the bill “provides the opportunity to restructure education programming for the sake of coordinated delivery and gaining efficiencies,” according to a copy of the letter provided to the Gazette-Mail by the Senate.
Gayle Manchin, officials in the Department of Education and the Arts and Democratic lawmakers have expressed concerns that the bill could jeopardize certain programs, including by threatening their federal funding.
Burch became deputy state schools superintendent in June, after Paine picked him for that position. Burch was chief academic officer under former state superintendent Michael Martirano.
Burch previously directed the Department of Education’s Office of Early Learning, which was focused on implementing the state’s “universal” pre-kindergarten program while he was leading it. The state has a free, voluntary pre-k program available for 3-year-olds with special needs and all 4-year-olds.
He was also involved in making and defending the state’s controversial changes to its science education standards that critics said cast unwarranted doubt on the theory that human greenhouse-gas emissions are driving global warming. The state board eventually retracted those changes, but made another modification.
He also defended the state board’s review of and changes to its largely Common Core math and English language arts standards — a review and changes that still resulted in the state board keeping much language identical to the Common Core national standards blueprint.