MORGANTOWN – Following the Senate’s passage of the omnibus education bill, Senate President Mitch Carmichael is confident a county board of education will take the next step to authorize the establishment of West Virginia’s first charter school.
The West Virginia Senate approved HB 206 18-16, along a party-line vote Monday night. Like previous versions, the bill includes a variety of proposed changes to the education system, including pay raises, charter schools, increased support personnel for schools, open enrollment, incentives to fill in-demand positions and financial support for small or struggling counties.
It also includes the phase-in of charter schools in the Mountain State for the first time.
“Pick an individual county, and when the data demonstrates that the students in the county are testing at near last levels in America, I’m hopeful the people of that county will say ‘no, this is not the way we want out children educated. We want a world class education because it will impact the rest of their lives,’” Carmichael asserted Tuesday on WAJR’s Talk of the Town.
Carmichael’s confidence is in stark contrast to Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso’s skepticism that charter schools are part of the state’s future. He was among the 16 Democrats voting against the bill.
“I’ll be surprised if there are any charter schools that come to fruition,” Prezioso commented during Monday’s floor session at the capital.
Gov. Jim Justice praised the passage of the bill on Tuesday at an appearance in Beckley.
“We can make our education systems really better,” he said. “I was really pleased with where we got to at the end of the day. I commend the Senate and the House, they did good work to get to where they are.
“We got to a pay raise bill, we got to counselors and psychologists. We are helping the state aid formula on the areas that are down in population and everything. We just did so much good.”
The version that passed allows for three charter schools in 2023 and then three more charter schools every three years. The charter schools would have to be approved by local school boards.
Much of the discussion, among both the public, the media and the legislators, focused on the charter schools issue while other aspects of the bill became an afterthought. Although there seemed to be widespread support for much of the other aspects of the legislation, the ramifications of issues, such as open enrollment, received little scrutiny.
“I certainly don’t fault the media for that as much as I do the union bosses who have controlled the education system in West Virginia for too long,” Carmichael stated. “They overlooked all the amazing benefits that were incorporated in this bill.”
While Marion County West Virginia Education Association (WVEA) President Allyson Perry concedes there are positive aspects to the bill, she said it still misses the mark of addressing the root problems within the state’s education system.
“There are certain, individual things that are good but it misses the forest for the trees. It misses the issue of the opioid crisis in the state. It misses the issue that many of our students come from broken homes, are not fed, have all of these mental health problems and we’re not addressing any of those problems and that’s what I want to see addressed,” Perry said.
Dale Lee, the state President of the WVEA said on Tuesday’s MetroNews ‘Talkline’ that his organization is looking into whether the bill is constitutional with all the provisions inside.
“We have our attorney already looking at that and we will explore every avenue of the bill,” he said. “We are going to make sure that we do everything that we can to solidify public education in West Virginia.”
Carmichael maintains the action taken this week by members of the House of Delegates and the Senate are a step toward improving student achievement in the state.
“We have been completely motivated by the concept that we can be first in America in our education delivery system and that our students, our parents and our teachers in this state are as gifted and as talented and blessed as any in America.”