The Monongalia and Preston County Boards of Education this week rejected an application for what would have been the first charter school in West Virginia.
The decisions have renewed the debate over charter schools, and motivated Republican lawmakers who want to expand charter school opportunities.
The Legislature passed a comprehensive education reform bill in 2019 that included a provision allowing for the creation of up to three charter schools over three years. Forty-five states and Washington, D.C., allow charters.
Charters receive public funding, but they operate independent from many of the rules and regulations of traditional schools. Advocates say charters offer parents an alternative to public schools, while opponents argue they drain resources from public education.
Nancy Walker, president of the Monongalia County Board of Education, said their decision to reject the application by the West Virginia Academy for a charter school was based on concerns about the filing.
“There still were a lot of unanswered questions about the application,” Walker told our Brad McElhinny, adding that the application did not meet seven specific standards that were reviewed by county school administrators.
John Treu, president and board member of the West Virginia Academy, said the board missed deadlines and then failed to give the Academy time to respond to issues raised by the board.
“The deficiencies were mostly inaccurate, and many had already been addressed by our board, but the committee ignored our responses and misled the public about our school to make us look bad,” Treu told me in an email.
Charter advocates, including Senator Patricia Rucker (R-Jefferson), Chair of the Senate Education Committee, have taken notice of the rejection. She believes it is a mistake to only give school boards authorizing authority.
“Local boards are going to want to maintain the status quo because they don’t want the competition,” Rucker said.
She plans to try to change the law in the next session to grant authorizing authority to other entities, such as colleges and universities. “In every single successful charter school use there has always been an independent authority not tied to the school system,” she said.
House Majority Whip Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson), who is the former chairman of the House Education Committee, agrees. “A lot of school boards don’t want to approve the competition,” he said. He expects the rejection of the charter application and possible legislative remedies to be a topic of discussion when House Republicans caucus Saturday.
Republican efforts to liberalize the charter law will meet opposition from most Democrats and the state teacher unions. They have consistently fought against allowing charters to compete with traditional public schools.
It is unclear what next year’s legislative session will look like. The pandemic may require the agenda to be pared down. However, the decisions by the Monongalia and Preston County Boards of Education have prompted school choice advocates in the Legislature, who increased their numbers in the last election, to push that issue higher up the priority list.