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Two virtual charter schools are added to West Virginia’s approvals

Two more charter schools, this time virtual options, have been authorized for West Virginia.

The West Virginia Professional Charter School board approved applications for West Virginia Virtual Academy and Virtual Preparatory Academy.

There were three applicants, and state law only allowed authorization of two this year. So West Virginia Connections Academy wound up the odd charter out.

Adam Kissel

Adam Kissel, chairman of the professional charter school board, noted that “the board regrets the law limits to two the number of virtual charter schools that the board may authorize.”

This was the second round of authorizations for West Virginia charter schools.

Last week, the board authorized three “brick-and-mortar” charter schools that will operate in communities: West Virginia Academy in the Morgantown area, Eastern Panhandle Preparatory Academy and Nitro Preparatory Academy.

Today, the board returned to make final decisions about the virtual options.

“This is a historic day for West Virginia as it relates to education,” said Dewayne Duncan, one of the board members. “With the authorization of the brick and mortar and the authorization of these online programs, it opens up the world of opportunity.”

He added, “These applicants are stellar.”

Another board member, Karen Bailey-Chapman, said that there was significant interest among virtual providers and suggested examining whether the cap on how many are allowed should be loosened.

“I think it’s great that we had all these applications – the brick and mortar as well as the virtual academies,” she said.

She added, “I hope West Virginia will continue to lead in the space of school choice.”

The board met for less than half an hour this afternoon and didn’t debate the options. Kissel read a prepared motion to approve two of the charter schools and reject the third, and then the board members took a vote. A few comments came later.

The motion characterized the applications by West Virginia Virtual Academy and Virtual Preparatory Academy as best focused on preparing students for careers.

The third, West Virginia Connections Academy, was described as emphasizing flexibility for students who want to focus on athletic or artistic endeavors. But the motion suggested that overriding goal has been addressed by the Hope Scholarship, established by the Legislature to provide financial support for families whose students are leaving public schools.

West Virginia Virtual Academy would open a K-12 virtual school with a career-technical education focus. It will be run by Stride, Inc., which used to be called K12 Inc. It would enroll up to 2,500 students.

Virtual Preparatory Academy would enroll up to 2,000 students for kindergarten through 12th grade. It will be run by Accel.

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.

The West Virginia Professional Charter Schools Board members said they will meet again in early December to receive a legal update. They will also prepare to notify the state Department of Education about the charter schools approvals.

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