CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Board of Education will consider putting a 47-page policy dealing with public charter schools out for public comment when its meets Thursday in Charleston.
The proposed policy, which has been worked on during the past several months, supplements the language state lawmakers approved on the charter school issue in the education reform bill passed earlier this year and signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice.
The proposal highlights the law that gives the final authority of whether a public school can be established in a particular county to that county’s board of education.
“The bottom line is the county board of education is really on the front line of taking a look at these applications and reviewing them and evaluating them to see if a charter school can meet its proposed goals,” state Department of Education Government Affairs Counsel Sarah Stewart told MetroNews Wednesday.
Local school boards “retain significant authority over charter schools,” the policy said.
Stewart has led a working group that’s been writing the proposed policy, bouncing ideas off of stakeholders and discussing options with nationally-recognized charter school organizations.
The reform law allows for three charter schools initially then three more in 2023, then three more every three years.
Charters could be established by 501(c) organizations that apply to county school boards which could approve or reject the proposals. The proposed policy offers guidelines on how the applications should be evaluated but county school boards can establish with their own process, Stewart said.
“County boards are not bound by what we have in policy. They certainly can do the research themselves, look at other best practices an use their own evaluation rubric,” Stewart said. “But it’s important that they do engage in a transparent process in their evaluation practices and ultimately reach a decision on the application.”
County school boards also get to determine the contract length and renewal requirements.
Charter schools are allowed to operate with “increased autonomy from some local and state laws and policies that apply to non-charter public schools.” They are open to all students in a particular area based on a random lottery.
Stewart said it’s important point out that public charter schools are public schools.
“These are public schools in West Virginia. They will be held to the same accountability standards as our non-charter public schools. They will participate in the general summary of assessment. They will appear on the Balanced Scorecard that we just released,” Stewart said.
A lot of the charter school language is in the new law. The proposed policy focuses on areas that are mentioned in the law but offer little explanation. Some of those areas include:
According to Stewart, that will be part of the contract negotiations between the group applying for a charter school and the county school board. The policy does offer language that requires experience for those teaching certain subject like the state’s current teacher alternative certification language.
“It’s not a full-blown teaching certification but it does set some safeguards–that an individual does have a background that shows that they qualified to teach what they will be teaching,” Stewart said.
West Virginia’s largest teacher’s unions, both the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-WV, have long been on record against charter schools. The WVEA announced in July it had notified the state it intended to sue it over the law. It hasn’t done so yet.
–Virtual Charter Schools
“We are not comfortable with the lack of research on performance of virtual charter schools,” Stewart said. “So we are asking the state Board to take that off the table,” Stewart said.
“The proposal is charter schools adhere to the same out-of-school disciplinary practices, like suspensions and expulsions, the same as non-charter schools,” according to Stewart.
“Charter schools will have to follow SSAC rules for athletics,” Stewart said.
The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools has been in contact with the state Department of Education in recent days. Stewart said the group believes the West Virginia language on charter schools is very strong and should make for strong schools.
“Yes, there are a lot of requirements that must be met but that only ensures that we have an increased chance of it being a very strong school,” Stewart said.
State Board of Education members will be asked Thursday morning to place the proposed policy on public comment for the next 30 days. The board would then consider the policy for approval at its January meeting.
After approval, the state Department of Education will offer training to county boards of education, Stewart said.
“We want to give them to the tools to go through the evaluation (of charter school applications),” Stewart said.
Thursday’s state BOE meetings begins at 9 a.m.