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Public charter schools making enrollment progress in West Virginia

CHARLESTON — School may be out for summer, but for West Virginia’s first public charter schools set to open in the next school year, work continues on building enrollment.

The West Virginia Professional Charter School Board met virtually Wednesday morning to receive updates on the progress of the state’s first two brick-and-mortar public charter schools and the first two statewide virtual public charter schools.

This also was the first meeting for James Paul, the board’s first full-time executive director since the board was appointed last summer.

“I’m very delighted to introduce James Paul to his first meeting with us,” said Adam Kissel, chairman of the Professional Charter School Board who also served as its acting director. “We are excited to have him.”

“Thanks, Adam. Yeah, I’m really excited to be here,” Paul said.

Paul wasted no time getting into the latest enrollment numbers for the state’s public charter schools.

The West Virginia Academy, serving students in Monongalia and Preston counties, has 394 students enrolled. The school will serve students in kindergarten through ninth grade.

The Eastern Panhandle Preparatory Academy has an enrollment of 247 with 81 students in the application process. The school will serve students in pre-K through 10th grade.

The West Virginia Academy and the Eastern Panhandle Preparatory Academy are the only two physical schools in the state’s public charter school pilot program. A third school, the Nitro Preparatory Academy in Kanawha County, will not open this coming school year after its first proposed location for school didn’t work out.

The 2022-2023 school year also will be the first year for statewide virtual charter schools. The West Virginia Virtual Academy has 155 students enrolled, up from 108 students a few weeks ago. Paul said school officials still project an enrollment between 500 and 1,000 students and expect applications to pick up in July.

The Virtual Preparatory Academy of West Virginia has an enrollment of 360 and also expects more applications in July.

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 percent of statewide headcount enrollment each school year. Also, 90 percent of the state per-pupil student aid formula follows the student, with 10 percent of student aid formula funding remaining with the county school system.

“Based on the same financial numbers from before, I think that translates – again, if we take all of the predictions as what will happen – to something like 1,500 students in total; maybe $9 to $11 million,” Kissel said. “That compares to the other 99 percent of students having $1 billion or $1.1 billion to work with at their schools.”

The board went into executive session to review legal matters. A lawsuit remains pending in Kanawha County Circuit Court to halt the public charter school pilot project. The West Virginia Supreme Court granted an order in February staying a decision by Kanawha County Judge Jennifer Bailey last December granting a motion by two teachers union members for a preliminary injunction to block further implementation of the public charter school pilot program.

Sam Brunett and Robert McCloud filed a lawsuit last year against Gov. Jim Justice, Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, asking the court to allow county residents to vote for proposed charter schools, block the Professional Charter School Board from approving charter schools and declare the charter school law unconstitutional.

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 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.

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

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