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State board approves rules for charter schools but with some qualms

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Board of Education voted to accept rules governing the establishment of charter schools in West Virginia.

Debra Sullivan

Only board member Debra Sullivan, former principal at Charleston Catholic, voted against the rules. Sullivan said her objection is not with how the rules were produced but instead with the charter schools concept.

Sullivan suggested that county school boards could be stretched thin by overseeing the charter schools application process — and that education resources could be stretched even further after that.

“I’m not convinced that the way to strengthen our public schools is to divert public funds to support a parallel set of schools or educational options,”  Sullivan said.

“What we do need are very good, more than adequately supported public schools that are accessible to all West Virginians regardless of where they live or the circumstances in which they find themselves.”

West Virginia’s legislature approved the establishment of charter schools last year after months of debate on an omnibus education bill.

Charter schools would be part of the state’s public education system and would be given greater latitude in exchange for the possibility of losing their right to operate if they fail.

The state’s three big teachers unions fought the policy and have said they are prepared to sue the state over it, although no lawsuit has been filed so far.

Laws that are passed by the Legislature later go through a rule-writing process for agencies to determine how to turn policy into practice.

In November, as the rules for charter schools were introduced for a first time, Sullivan suggested a longer-than-usual 60-day public comment period. Board members took her up on that.

Sarah Stewart

Sarah Stewart, director of policy and government relations for the state board, today said 512 comments were received from 126 commenters including parents, teachers, support personnel and others.

“They helped identify ambiguities in the policy,” Stewart said.

Most of the responsibility, she said, is with county boards of education, which would be tasked with reviewing charter school applications, approving or rejecting applicants and, possibly, overseeing charter schools.

Stewart said the Department of Education is working to develop training for counties as well as template applications.

“Ultimately,” she said of counties, “it is in their hands and they are in the driver’s seat.”

Charter School Executive Summary (Text)

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