Understanding the Public Charter School Provisions of House Bill 206 has been on my “to do” agenda for a spell. Finally, during the West Virginia School Board Association Conference on September 13, 2019, I got my mind wrapped around this new law. First, whatever I may feel about Charter Schools is now moot. It is the law of the land.
The fact that our new law calls for “public” charter schools surprised me. The entity comes directly under the scrutiny of the Boards of Education. We will have to deliberate on any new school, and if we agree to the start-up, we would have to fund it with block grants. Then, the BOE would have to monitor progress as the entity went forward. So, the Legislature created a whole new level of complexity for local Boards of Education, including the possibility that charter schools may expand across set district boundaries.
A public charter school would need a unique purpose for existence. We already have Mountaineer Challenge Academy and Alternative School. Also, religious-based schools already thrive. So, keeping the main thing, the main thing requires dialogue with those who would fund charter schools. My hope would be that when unmet student education needs are identified, our community would come together and solve the problem. No difficulty cannot be resolved.
Perhaps West Virginia University, Marshall University, or West Virginia Wesleyan College could make an argument for a public charter school under their organizational umbrella, promoting an educational theory or practice that would benefit some of our students in ways that cannot happen using our present system?
House Bill 206 sets up specific rules for both the applicant for a public charter school and for the Board of Education. For example, completing a review in 45 days could be extremely tight for a BOE acting as a trustee now. Additional staff would need to be hired just to be compliant. And if decisions are made that can be challenged, then attorneys will be hired by both sides. I can hope that the up to three public charter schools formed each year as outlined by the new legislation will improve education in the Mountain State but not bust the budget.
State Superintendent of Schools Steven L. Paine, Ed.D., spoke to our assembly in Charleston. He gave us encouraging words. Flexibility in governance is here. Our Upshur County Schools Board of Education already is listening to our citizens in forums. We are crafting educational goals for the next ten years and beyond. Undoubtedly we will be requesting variances that will help us achieve the excellence our students so deserve.
Flexibility is good!
My final thought on our Public Charter School option is simply this: Let us reason together, improving on the seven elementary schools, one middle school, one high school and one technical center we operate under our current structure before we create a new entity yet to be proven. However, I applaud our citizen legislature for creating tools that may allow our students opportunities for a 21st-century education.