CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Those for and against allowing public charter schools in West Virginia made their arguments Wednesday during a public hearing at the Capitol. Lawmakers are preparing to take up legislation that would make West Virginia the 43rd state to permit charters.
Charter schools are allowed to operate independent of a school district, giving teachers, administrators and parents more local control. In return, the schools are held more accountable for their results.
Research about the success of charter schools has been mixed. However, a 2013 Stanford University study of 26 states found charter schools “are benefiting low-income, disadvantaged and special education students.”
The bill that will be taken up will allow for public charter schools. They would be funded by tax dollars based on student enrollment. There would be no tuition and schools would have no special entrance requirements.
According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, “more than a quarter of the Best High Schools in America, according to Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report, are charter schools.”
However, the charter concept has its critics, especially among the teacher unions, which represent only a small portion of charter school teachers.
“There’s definitely a disconnect between what the well-oiled PR machine is championing and what is actually happening in the charter sector,” Bob Tate, senior policy analyst with the National Education Association, said on the organization’s website. “Questions over accountability only scratch the surface.”
The number of charter school is increasing nationally with nearly 6,500 charter schools teaching 2.5 million students.
Here’s a sampling of some of the comments by those who spoke in favor of charter schools at Wednesday’s hearing:
Monty Warner, high school teacher: “I’ve seen many great teachers retire or leave our profession because they grew tired of the over bureaucratized, over centralized things that have bedeviled our school system and forced us to fall behind.”
Mark Saad, West Virginia Chamber of Commerce: “West Virginia’s public schools, by all objective measures, are low performing and in many instances are failing.”
Matt Walker, parent: “Every West Virginia community deserves to choose a public charter school or not and to choose to work toward something that can thrive and blossom into something wonderful and successful that they can be proud of.”
Here are some comments from those who spoke against charter schools:
Christine Campbell, President of the American Federation of Teachers West Virginia: “I haven’t heard overwhelming support from West Virginia educators, parents or community members regarding charter schools. Given our need to improve student achievement, we shouldn’t gamble with our children’s future.”
Tega McGuffin, high school teacher: “When you are pulling tax money away from public schools and funneling into charter schools, what are you doing? You are weakening the public school system and, thus, hurting the kids.”
Greg Crewey, McDowell County teacher: “Charter schools might be the best solution for the kids that get to go to them, but they are not the best solution for all kids, and that’s the difficulty that we face.”