Senate Education amends House charter schools bill and sends it to Senate floor

David Beard, The Dominion Post, Morgantown, W.Va.
·3 min read

Feb. 24—MORGANTOWN — The Senate Education Committee tweaked the House charter schools bill Tuesday night and sent it to the full Senate.

As it came to the Senate, HB 2012 allowed for one statewide virtual school, with an enrollment cap of 10 % of the statewide student head count, and one virtual school in each county with a 10 % enrollment cap based on the county's headcount.

Currently, only three charter schools my be launched every three years. This raises the limit to 10.

It creates the West Virginia Professional Charter School Board as a statewide school authorizer, separate from the Department of Education and answerable directly to the state Board of Education. The board's five members would be appointed by the governor.

Two years after the first public charter school commences operations, the Legislator Auditor will conduct an audit of the program and report the findings to the Legislature.

The committee took up a revised version that was further revised by an amendment offered by Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison.

The committee's initial version broadened the definition of an education service provider — the contracted entity to design, implement and manage a school program — to include for-profit ESPs.

It adds certain criminal convictions by school leaders as a reason to revoke a school charter.

It split the one statewide virtual charter with a 10 % statewide head count cap into two schools each with a 5 % statewide cap. It limits the authority of the Professional Charter School Board only to those schools it has authorized.

Romano's amendment passed in a 7-6 show-of-hands vote. It limits the initial number of charters to three, expandable to 10 every three years after the first trial period. And it placed a cap of 1, 500 students on each of the two statewide virtual schools for the first three years, expandable to the committee's proposed 5 % cap for each after that period.

Romano acknowledged that passage of the bill was inevitable but urged a more cautious first step.

Committee chair Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, and vice-chair Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, both noted that the 10-school figure was put in the bill because it allows access to some federal funds, but Romano prevailed.

Discussion and questions covered the familiar territory: Accountability, oversight, the ability to revoke a charter or take corrective action if a school is failing.

Whether a charter school is brick and mortar or virtual, charter school law says 90 % of school aid formula funding — just over $4, 600 — will follow the student to the charter school.

Romano questioned why a virtual school, with no physical overhead, would need that much money. "It sure seems like a windfall for virtual charter schools, " he said.

Ashley DeMauro Mullins, with the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and Jason Webb, representing Stride, a for-profit ESP, both told him that the vast majority of virtual school overhead is personnel costs. Mullins said virtual programs typically cost up to 98 % of traditional programs. Technology and ever-evolving curriculum development also eat up money.

Following adoption of Romano's amendment the committee approved the amended bill in a divided voice vote.

It now heads to the Senate floor. If the full Senate approves the bill it will have to go back to the House for amendment concurrence or further negotiation.

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