Charter schools now limited to two; public hearing set for education bill

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The latest version of a broad-ranging bill being considered by the House Education Committee now limits the number of allowed charter schools to two.

They’re also a very specific two.

One would be an elementary school in Kanawha County. The other would be an elementary school in Cabell County.

Both would be existing public schools converting to charters. The schools would be measured as low-performing.

Danny Hamrick

“It was narrowing the scope of the charter portion to include some of the schools ranked as the lowest-performing in the state,” House Education Chairman Danny Hamrick said when explaining the possible change.

The charter program would be operated on a pilot basis.

The bill passed last week by the state Senate had no cap on the number of charter schools. An earlier version of a bill being considered by House Education had limited the number of charters to six.

Questioned by House Education Committee members, Hamrick suggested the schools under consideration to convert to charters were Mary C. Snow in Charleston and Spring Hill in Huntington.

They would not have to do so. The decision would be reached by parents and community members with approval by county boards.

“We just wanted to give them opportunities and be able to improve themselves in any way possible,” Hamrick said.


Meanwhile, as teachers unions across West Virginia count strike authorization votes, the Speaker of the House of Delegates has called for a public hearing on an education bill under consideration.

The public hearing will be at 8 a.m. Monday in the House chamber.

Teachers unions plan to gather Saturday in Flatwoods to tally the local work action votes.

The 129-page education bill hit the House this week and is currently under consideration by the Education Committee.

Roger Hanshaw

“We said from the start of our deliberations that we would accept input from all sides in this process, and that includes hearing from our teachers, students, parents and administrators,” stated Hanshaw, R-Clay.

“A public hearing will allow our citizens, and all those affected by this bill, the opportunity to have their voices heard.”

A common complaint among teachers and service personnel was that they didn’t have opportunities to comment as the bill was being formulated in the state Senate.

Hanshaw sent a letter Thursday morning to Danny Hamrick, chairman of the House Education Committee, and Eric Householder, chairman of House Finance.

“While our Education and Finance committees hear from experts on questions related to this bill, this hearing will allow those on the front lines of our education system to weigh in,” Hanshaw stated.

“We want to make our education system the best it can be for all involved, and this hearing will provide valuable input on this process.”

The West Virginia Education Association, one of the three educators unions, welcomed the public hearing.

“We are glad that educators and parents will have an opportunity to voice their concerns over the bill. Hopefully the public hearing will be scheduled at a time that does not limit both educators and parents from attending,” said WVEA spokeswoman Kym Randolph.

“Educators are excited to have the opportunity to talk about the things that would make our schools better and help increase student achievement. Their list of helpful programs varies greatly from what the Senate has included in the bill.”

Randolph said, though, that work action authorization votes have continued and that the Flatwoods meeting would go on as planned.

Teachers unions met earlier this week with Hanshaw, prior to the bill’s rollout in House Education.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done on the bill,” Bob Brown of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia said earlier this week on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

But Brown added, “We’ve already had more input on the House side than we did in the whole process of the bill moving through the Senate. I’m encouraged that we’re going to have some input. I’m discouraged that this still has some pretty egregious provisions we’re going to have to amend and deal with.”

The bill includes long-promised pay raises for educators. The bill also opens the way for charter schools and educational savings accounts that would set aside public dollars for private schooling for a certain number of participants.

The bill would also let teachers bank personal days for retirement credit. It would give counties greater latitude in paying some teachers more for in-demand expertise. It would open enrollment for students to cross county lines.

It would allow counties to raise levy rates up to a set maximum, rather than relying on state formula.

Two contentious provisions were removed from the bill under discussion in House Education.

One was a non-severability clause that would have struck down the whole bill if any part were thrown out in court.

The other was a ‘paycheck protection’ provision requiring teachers union members to sign off on their union dues annually.

Discussion continued Thursday morning in the House Education Committee.

Committee members continued to ask questions of the Department of Education about how the bill would work.

Many of the questions focused on the economics of educational savings accounts, vouchers that would provide funding for students leaving the public school system for private education.

Others compared charter schools with the innovation zones already in place in West Virginia’s school system.

Delegate Jeff Campbell, who is also a teacher in Greenbrier County, asked a series of questions about the possible effects of the bill.

“This is being billed as a comprehensive education reform bill. Is there anything in it that increases student performance?” asked Campbell, D-Greenbrier.

He followed up with more questions: “Is there anything that maximizes instructional time?” “Is there anything that improve student assessment measures?” “Is there anything that improves programs and funding for special education?”

Delegate Jim Butler took issue with Campbell’s line of questioning.

“I don’t object to the questions,” said Butler, R-Mason, “but I do think they ask for opinion.”

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