Reform: Charter schools legislation needed

No one involved thought the “omnibus” education reform bill West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed into law in June 2019 was perfect. Far from it — though reasons for dissatisfaction differed greatly.

Among key changes conservative legislators sought and got included in the bill was a provision permitting creation of private charter schools in the state. What was enacted was language that technically allowed charter schools but in reality made anyone trying to open one start the process with two and a half strikes against it.

Charter school provisions in the law give county boards of education virtual veto power over any proposal involving their jurisdictions. Those attempting to establish charter schools must submit detailed plans to county boards — and get their approval.

As we pointed out back then, charter schools compete with their public counterparts for students and state funding. Why would anyone expect a county board of education to say yes to a competitor it could stop?

Earlier this year, private sponsors proposed creation of a charter called the West Virginia Academy. It was to be located in Morgantown and serve students from Monongalia, Preston and Marion counties.

In November, boards of education in Monongalia and Preston counties rejected the academy’s plans. Monongalia County officials said the proposal did not meet seven of the 10 detailed requirements set down by the state. A West Virginia University professor involved with the academy called the school board’s reasoning “vague and largely subjective” — but the rejection stands.

State legislators need to take another look at the 2019 reform bill. Does it indeed doom charter school proposals to failure if county boards of education decide they do not want competition? If so, the law should be amended so West Virginians can have real choices in educating our children.


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