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West Virginia charter schools on track to open next school year

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s first three brick-and-mortar public charter schools and the first two statewide virtual charter schools are meeting benchmarks and deadlines to open for the 2022-23 school year next fall.

Members of the Legislative Oversight Commission on Education Accountability heard a report Sunday afternoon from Adam Kissel, chairman of the West Virginia Professional Charter School Board. Sunday marked the first day of April legislative interim meetings.

The Professional Charter School Board approved three physical charter schools last year: the Nitro Preparatory Academy in Kanawha County, the Panhandle Preparatory Academy in Jefferson County and the West Virginia Academy in Monongalia County.

The West Virginia Academy will serve students in kindergarten through ninth grade. More than 400 students are enrolled at the West Virginia Academy, with projected enrollment of 500 by the time the school year starts. The Panhandle Preparatory Academy will serve students in pre-K through 10th grade, with 120 students already enrolled and a projected enrollment of 156 by the start of the school year.

The Nitro Preparatory Academy will also serve students in pre-K through 10th grade, but its future is not as certain. While the other schools have buildings procured, Nitro Preparatory Academy is scrambling to find a site after its first proposed location fell through.

“The contract with the charter school board says that they need to tell us 90 days before they open that they have the property and that it will really be ready,” Kissel said. “If they don’t or if they don’t think they can be financially viable, they won’t be open this year. They would be able to open next year.”

The board also approved applications for two statewide virtual public charter schools: the Virtual Preparatory Academy of West Virginia and Mountain State Learning Solutions, also called West Virginia Virtual Academy. House Bill 2012, passed during the 2021 legislative session, allows for no more than two statewide virtual charter schools, with an enrollment cap of 5% of statewide head count enrollment each school year.

The Virtual Preparatory Academy of West Virginia projects an enrollment of 360 online students by the start of the school year, while the West Virginia Virtual Academy projects 500.

HB 2012 expanded the maximum number of public charter schools allowed in the pilot program created in 2019 from three to 10 schools in a three-year period. The application deadline for new public charter schools for the 2023-24 school year is Wednesday, Aug. 31.

The Professional Charter School Board has 90 days from the time it receives an application to either approve or reject it. If no action is taken, the public charter school is automatically approved. Applicants must satisfy 25 different requirements in the pilot program. If the school plans to use a third-party education service provider, the school must meet 12 additional metrics for approval.

Kissel told lawmakers the board expects to announce the hire of an executive director soon. Kissel is serving as both chairman of the board and acting executive director. The board consists of five voting members, but it’s down to four members. Kissel said he expects Gov. Jim Justice to appoint a fifth member to the board soon. The board is also awaiting approval by the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office of a contract for a website.

Steven Allen Adams can be reached at sadams@newsandsentinel.com

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