CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Charter schools are among many provisions of an omnibus education bill being considered in the state Senate.
Charter schools also get most of the public attention and receive the most pages dedicated to defining how they would work.
What do you need to know about charter schools in West Virginia? Here’s what.
What’s a charter school?
Any charter school would be part of the state’s public education system, but would be exempt from most statutes and administrative regulations. Schools that fail to meet standards could lose their charter.
How many would there be?
This bill sets no limit on the number of charter schools in West Virginia. It also doesn’t say there have to be any at all.
“Nobody is requiring anyone to charter a school,” said Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson. “This is an optional program.”
When could charters begin?
No charter schools may operate until July 1, 2020.
How would a charter school get started?
Any group or entity with 501(c)3 status — or that has applied for that status — could submit an application.
Applications for a charter school would include 24 separate sets of required information, including a mission statement and detailed descriptions of the proposed program.
The applications would also include a proposed five-year budget, a proposed handbook of personnel policies, a description of food services, a detailed startup plan and procedures to be followed in case of closure or dissolution of the charter school.
Who would approve them?
“Authorizers,” as they’re called, may include a county school board, two or more school boards working together, the state school board or a higher education institution.
Higher education institutions do have a limit. They may authorize no more than four charter schools statewide.
Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, has reservations about colleges establishing charter schools unless they’re in cooperation with local school systems.
“I do have a problem with that,” Prezioso said. “I think higher ed doesn’t have the constitutional requirement to be in local education.”
Authorizers are also supposed to monitor performance and compliance of charter schools. If a charter school doesn’t deserve renewal, it would be up to the authorizer to revoke the charter.
What are the expectations?
The charter contract has to include ways to measure performance, including student academic proficiency, student academic growth, student attendance, suspensions and withdrawals.
Can an existing school become a charter school?
This might be important to consider during instances of consolidation decisions.
“Nothing prohibits a noncharter public school subject to consolidation from being converted to a public charter school,” the bill states.
This was the subject of a blog post from The Progressive Policy Institute about West Virginia’s education reform conversation.
“Many rural communities want to keep their local schools,” the post concluded. “However, they need innovative 21st Century solutions to overcome their respective challenges in doing so.”
Students in the attendance area of a transitioning school would have preference to attend the newly-formed charter.
Who runs a charter school?
Each charter school is run by a governing board of no fewer than five members.
Specifically, that has to include two parents of students attending the school plus one member of the county school board.
The school board aspect has a couple of twists: The county board isn’t required to designate a member of the governing board. But refusal to do so wouldn’t be means to block a charter school.
Governing board members can’t also be an employee of the charter school or an employee of an education service provider that contracts with the charter school.
Together, members of the governing board are supposed to possess expertise in leadership, curriculum and instruction, law and finance.
The governing board is responsible for operating the charter school, including the budget, service contracts, the curriculum, personnel matters and achieving the other overarching goals.
Where do charter schools get their funding?
The state school board is supposed to set rules about charter school funding. That is to include a requirement that 90 percent of the per pupil state aid allocation follow the student to the charter school. Federal funding also would follow the student.
What students can go to a charter school?
A charter school may enroll any student in the state.
If there is more demand than the charter school is set up to handle, the school would select students through “a random and transparent lottery.” The state board would set up the lottery procedures.
Once a charter school is established, students who have already been attending would receive enrollment preference, as would their siblings.
Children of staff or governing board members may receive enrollment preference, as long as that’s no more than 10 percent of the school’s total student population.
Charters also may give enrollment preference for at-risk students or students who are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
Charters are supposed to submit an annual plan to serve vulnerable students. Examples include limited English proficiency, qualification for special education, low income or risk of dropping out of school.
Once a charter school opens, is it open forever?
The authorizer — probably the county board — may renew the charter contract for a term of no more than five years. They can grant renewal with specific conditions for improvement.
The school also could lose its charter for a variety of reasons, including failure to meet attainment standards.
If a charter contract isn’t renewed, the governing board would be allowed to provide a response.
A charter applicant or the governing board can appeal decisions to revoke a charter to the West Virginia Board of Education.
Can elected officials who are voting on this bill profit from a charter school?
This bill explicitly says no.
“No elected official may profit or receive any monetary consideration from a charter school.”
There is a caveat: an elected official who was employed by a public school prior to its conversion to a public charter school.
Can charter school students participate in extracurricular activities?
Yes. The bill says charter schools may participate in extracurricular activities just the same as other public schools.
The bill says nothing in it supersedes the eligibility requirements for participation in extracurricular activities established by the Secondary Schools Activities Commission
Doesn’t West Virginia already have Innovation Zones?
But Innovation Zones are not the same as charter schools.
The regulatory structure is different. Charter schools are largely established without the regulations subject to regular schools in exchange for the possibility that their charters may be revoked if they fail.
Innovation Zone schools may apply for exemptions to regulations. Innovation Zone schools also are supposed to receive funding meant for training in special areas, although West Virginia’s funding has lapsed.
A position paper put out this week by the West Virginia School Board Association suggested Innovation Zones have not been as strong as they could be.
“Innovation Zones, even if reframed by removal of existing restrictions and requirements for their establishment, will become much as they are — underutilized, stranded if not overlooked change agents that can usher continuous public school system reforms at both the school and district levels.”
The position paper suggests state officials should focus seriously on Innovation Zones if they expect them to succeed.
“Just taking a brief tour through the history of Innovation Zones, one first realizes the Innovation Zone concept became consolation for defeat of a charter schools proposal offered during the ill-fated 2010 public education reform session,” the paper stated.
“Largely as a curative to ward the hex of charter schools, public education constituencies widely embrace Innovation Zones. If we aren’t careful, this ‘cheap grace’ approach anoints Innovation Zones as salvific for public school innovation and progress.”
Do people want charter schools?
Of those who turned in comment cards for the West Virginia’s Voice forums this spring, 88 percent said they disagreed with creating charter schools.
Six percent said they strongly agree with the charter schools proposal.
Many of those who attended worried that charter schools might draw resources from county school systems that are struggling already.
Also, “Participants expressed concern that public charter schools would attract the highest-performing students away from traditional public schools, thereby leading to a decrease in student achievement and perpetuating negative impressions of public schools.”
State Schools Superintendent Steve Paine is one of those with reservations.
“I wish I could get excited about charter schools,” he said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
“That seems to be one of those items that’s being pushed hard.”