Charter schools debated in House hearing

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A public hearing was held Tuesday morning at the state capitol which involved a heated discussion on the bill that would allow the creation of public charter schools.

If the bill (SB14) is passed, county school boards would be able to establish charter schools that would provide flexibility and creativity in curriculum and instruction. The state Senate approved the bill last week with a party line vote of 18-16.

Many people were against the passing of the bill.

Wendy Peters, a 3rd grade teacher at Daniels Elementary School in Raleigh County, said she has students who come from wealthy families, but also has students who have no idea where their next meal will come from. Peters said the winter storms that kept students out of school for long periods of time kept her up at night.

Peters said she worried and prayed that her students had enough food to eat and were warm. She said the only food that some of her students receive is at school where the provide breakfast and lunch. For this reason, she said public schools should treat all students the same way whether they are wealthy, poor, loved, or neglected.

“Regardless of their circumstances, they deserve the best education and an equal shot at achieving their goals and dreams,” said Peters, “Public schools are the only chance for some of these kids.”

Other speakers also targeted children who deserve equal attention in schools. Rev. Jim Lewis of Charleston said he used to preach at St. John’s Episcopal Church in the city nearly 40 years ago. While there, he knew a boy who came to his church for help. The boy was being bullied for his sexual orientation. Lewis said the boy later committed suicide.

Lewis said the legislature needs to protect students from being bullied. He said if the bill passed, it would not give those students the kind of protection they need, which, he said he believes, is needed across the Mountain State.

Tega McGuffin, a teacher from Oak Hill High School in Fayette County, said charter schools do not provide “choice” for everyone to succeed.

“How can we look at a certain group of kids and say, ‘You don’t have a choice. Only certain people have a choice.’? That is not choice. That is exclusivity. There’s a difference,” said McGuffin.

Kenny Perdue, president of the West Virginia AFL-CIO, was also at the public hearing. He spoke about the future of West Virginia’s work force. He said many members of the AFL-CIO are parents who have children enrolled in public schools. For this reason, he said public schools play a huge role in training future workers.

Perdue said charter schools would undermine the basic rights of a large number of West Virginia workers.

“Under the current bill, education employees would become at-will employees and lose all due process rights. The principal would fire an employee for no reason and employees would have no recourse,” said Perdue.

Others were in favor of the bill including Dr. William Sale, a parent of a charter school principal in Chicago, who teaches at Bloom College Prep Middle School. He spoke about why he supports charter schools as a component of all public education systems.

At Bloom College Prep, they target and serve culturally underprivileged children. The school is a member of a national non-prophet organization called Knowledge is Powerful Program (K.I.P.P.). Sale said the program is one of the more successful charter school networks in the country.

Sale said the students who are a part of the program out-performed their local community public schools in measure achievement score improvements. He said he thinks the creation of charter schools is a good idea and would create options for low income families.

“Since school choice for a good education is a desire that most families have for their children, charter schools broaden the choice of an educational alternative,” said Sale.

Forty-two other states already have charter school programs.

The House Finance Committee was scheduled take up the bill Tuesday afternoon.

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