West Virginia Misses Opportunity to Create High-Quality Schools for the State's Neediest Students

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Washington D.C. – Today National Alliance senior vice president of state advocacy and support, Todd Ziebarth, released the following statement:

“Today, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice signed House Bill 206 into law. In theory, the bill will allow public charter schools in the state. Unfortunately, because of political pressure from special interest groups, the bill was written to actually discourage the creation of high-quality public charter schools.

Two provisions are particularly problematic in supporting the growth of high-quality public charter schools: county boards as the single authorizer and a cap that effectively only allows one charter school per year.

States with district boards as the only authorizer typically see very few public charter schools open. Allowing district boards the opportunity to use public charter schools as a tool as an authorizer is a best practice in charter school authorizing. But making them the only pathway for a high-quality applicant to receive approval ensures that there will likely be very few public charter schools in West Virginia, as county boards are not equipped or incentivized to approve high-quality applicants. 

While a reasonable limit on the number of public charter schools opening in a year can help a state plan for charter schools opening, a cap as low as one per year stifles organic growth of schools and prevents high-quality applicants the opportunity to open schools that could serve the highest-need students.

It’s also worth noting that because of provisions in this bill, West Virginia will very likely never receive federal funds to support the start-up of public charter schools. In a state that depends so significantly on federal funds to support infrastructure and schools, this missed opportunity to compete for tens of millions of dollars in federal funds is devastating.

Finally, if anything, the bill may lead to the opening of poorly performing full-time virtual charter schools. The bill fails to put the proper safeguards in place to ensure that these schools will succeed. Instead, it replicates the conditions in other states where full-time virtual charter schools fail most of their students and taxpayers.

While the Senate version of the charter school bill was significantly stronger due to the efforts of Senator Patricia Rucker and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, the House unfortunately did not share that commitment and passed a significantly weakened version of the bill, despite leadership from some House members to convince their colleagues to commit to a stronger bill.

West Virginia students who desperately need better educational opportunities will have to continue to wait for the state’s politicians to stand up to special interest groups fiercely opposed to high-quality public charter schools.”