In a recent win by West Virginia Republicans, the House of Delegates passed a bill on a 66-32 vote that would increase the number of public charter schools allowed. It increased the number every three years from three to 10 and allows for online-only charger schools as well.
“We’re a diverse state. We have different geographic regions that have different needs. This just gives opportunity. If people don’t want to take advantage of that opportunity, they don’t have to. So it’s strictly voluntary,” said Delegate Joe Ellington, a Mercer County Republican and the bill’s sponsor.
All Democrats voted against the bill, arguing that the move to install charter schools in West Virginia was driven by the outside interest that will steer money away from public schools.
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The House also passed a separate bill on a 60-29 vote that would establish investment accounts for vocational and trade students, known as the “Hope Scholarship.” It would be similar to a college savings account and allow parents to use their tax dollars for educational expenses such as private home tuition, home tutoring, testing aids, and other permitted educational expenses.
The program would open to a maximum of 22,000 students at the cost of $101 million, but make nearly every school-age child eligible for a savings account by 2026.
In 2019, Republican Gov. Jim Justice signed a charter school bill that drew heavy criticism from public school teachers and House Democrats. Teacher unions held protests, called for a statewide walkout, and had classes canceled in 54 out of the state’s 55 counties. They refused the opportunity for parents to provide education savings accounts for their kids, despite the fact that the bill would also give teachers 5 percent raises. Union reps argued it was a “blow to the public school system” and that they should have had more input on the legislation.
This year, however, Republicans have advanced in the legislature and fighting for school choice. Currently, there are no charter schools in West Virginia, and the only application submitted so far was rejected. There is now a lawsuit against the state Department of Education regarding the decision.
The charter school expansion bill would allow the West Virginia Professional Charter School Board to review applications instead of in Monongalia and Preston counties. It would also allow each of Virginia’s 55 counties to approve the creation of fully online virtual charter schools and set reopening plans for public and private schools.
West Virginia’s pandemic numbers continue to look brighter and Gov. Jim Justice noted during a recent briefing that the state will ease restrictions on schools, businesses, and restaurants. Pre-K, elementary and middle schools will be open for in-person instruction four or five days per week.
While Democrats continue to fight through legal action and limited excuses, Republicans have returned their focus on building schools for a better community.