First three charter schools approved for West Virginia

West Virginia’s first three charter schools were authorized this morning.

Members of the West Virginia Professional Charter Schools Board approved three “brick and mortar” schools: West Virginia Academy in the Morgantown area, Eastern Panhandle Preparatory Academy and Nitro Preparatory Academy.

The schools could open by next fall.

Adam Kissel

“So those three public charter schools are authorized,” said charter schools board chairman Adam Kissel during a brief meeting this morning. “This is a great day for the children of West Virginia.”

The newly-established state charter schools board delayed a decision on applicants for virtual charter schools until next week.

West Virginia has had no charter schools until now, after passing a state law allowing them in 2019. Charter schools would receive financial support from the state’s public education system and would be given greater operational latitude in exchange for the possibility of losing their right to operate if they fail.

The Legislature this year expanded that law to allow more charter schools and to expand the ways they could apply or appeal.

House Bill 2012 increased the number of locally-operating charter schools that could be approved in a three-year period from three to 10. And it laid the groundwork for charter schools that would operate virtually.

Previously, county school boards were authorizers for charter schools. The bill added a West Virginia Professional Charter School Board as an authorizer.

There still could be one significant obstacle to the charter schools — a lawsuit filed to challenge the constitutionality of the Professional Charter Schools Board.

The legal challenge is based on a portion of the state Constitution that says “no independent free school district, or organization shall hereafter be created, except with the consent of the school district or districts out of which the same is to be created, expressed by a majority of the voters voting on the question.”

The lawsuit contends the current path for charter school approval steers around that requirement.

Fred Albert

“The only statement I would make at this time is that I think opening any charter schools in our state should be done after the citizens have had an opportunity to vote on whether or not they want charter schools in their counties/communities,” Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said this morning.

“I would also say that just because the appointed charter school board has approved these charter schools, it does necessarily mean that the communities want them. We will have to wait and see.”

Today, though, supporters of charter schools were cheering the first authorizations.

Garrett Ballengee

“This is an exciting time for education — and families — in West Virginia,” said Garrett Ballengee, executive director of the West Virginia Center for West Virginia Policy, a think tank that has supported greater flexibility in the public school system.

“The authorization of these charter schools symbolizes that choice, options, and student-centric learning environments are coming to West Virginia. Since their inception in the early 1990s, charter schools are the chosen form of schooling for millions of students across the country, and it is wonderful that West Virginia’s families will, finally, have the same option. I hope this is just the beginning of 1,000 flowers blooming in West Virginia’s education landscape.”

The Cardinal Institute has significant ties to the state’s professional charter schools board. Of the three board members voting today, Kissel is senior fellow with the Cardinal Institute and Karen Bailey-Chapman is a Cardinal board member.

Dewayne Duncan, another professional charter schools member, is a real estate agent with no formal association with the Cardinal Institute. Brian Helton, another professional charter schools board member, did not log on for today’s teleconferenced meeting.

The three charter schools that have been approved went through a process that included producing lengthy applications as well as public hearings.

“You can really tell they are prepared and excited,” Duncan said of the applicants.

None of the applicants were concluded to have “any identified deficiencies.” 

West Virginia Academy, operating in the Morgantown area, had its application rejected last year by local school boards in Monongalia and Preston counties. Now the academy is excited to get rolling, said John Treu, its president.

“We’re very pleased, of course, and very excited to be able to offer a meaningful choice to parents in our community within the public education system,” Treu said this morning on “Talk of the Town” on WAJR-AM.

Treu said preparation has been underway for the school for the past couple of years. A 19-acre site in the Cheat Lake area of Morgantown has been selected, and pre-registration is already happening. For now, the campus is expected to feature modular structures, although the long-term vision is for permanent facilities.

“West Virginia is, I think, the 47th state to finally adopt charters,” Treu said. “This isn’t some kind of crazy, unknown, innovative thing to have a charter school. Charter schools have been around for a long time.”

Eastern Panhandle Preparatory Academy’s goal is to open in August 2022, said Mark Fuhrmann of that school.

“We’re near ecstatic. Energized,” Fuhrmann said on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

“We will assure that every student is empowered. Students will graduate from this charter school prepared to be confident and lead competitive lives, to be curious and creative learners and to succeed with high academic goals.”

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