The Charter Schools bill made its way into the House Wednesday. The House Education Committee debated the bill until almost midnight that night. It ultimately passed and will soon be on first reading in the full House.
Senate Bill 14 was the focus of a lot of debate in the Senate, and passed Monday on a vote of 18 to 16. Public Charter Schools still receive government and county funds, just like regular public schools, but charter schools would not be overseen by the county Board of Education. This in turn would give teachers at charter schools more flexibility in the way they deliver their curriculum, but they would still be subject to state education standards.
Delegate Amanda Pasdon of Monongalia County, the House Education Chair, says charter schools will provide more options.
“I don’t have any concerns with the progression of it," Pasdon said, "I think that there are those that support charter schools; public charter schools, I think there’s a lot of support, because it gives our students a choice, and I think that’s what this is really about is focusing on our students, making sure that we’re meeting their needs to the best of our ability, and this is really just a county option and a community option to allow communities to develop school choice and options that really benefit our students.”
In the House Education Committee meeting Wednesday night, there were a handful of amendments proposed by members. One of those amendments came from Delegate David Perry of Fayette County, the Minority Education Chair. It provided more auditing and oversight of charter schools.
“I proposed an amendment that the offices of education performance audits would monitor the charter schools," Perry explained, "and this means that they would check on school climate, that they would monitor finances, that they would monitor instruction to ensure there was some accountability.”
Perry’s amendment was rejected, and he says he’s concerned that will make it difficult to make sure charter schools are providing quality educations for West Virginia students and spending their funds properly.
“Well I have concerns, number one, that there was not a fiscal note with the bill that we discovered, hadn’t been prepared after changes in the Senate, and I still have very much concern over accountability and when we’re dealing with public funds and the education that those children would receive or not receive,” Perry said.
Delegate Sean Hornbuckle of Cabell County also proposed two amendments to the bill. One would require three parents on the charter school governing board be proportionate to the demographic of the students attending the school. This amendment, however, was rejected, as well as a second amendment that dealt with a new idea not raised in the Senate.
“The other amendment that I proposed is we’re going to have two charter schools in the first five years of this program allowed to open up. The amendment simply stated that at least one of those schools need to be aimed at student populations of at risk pupils," Hornbuckle said, "So this could be in super rural areas of the state, it could be in inner, inner cities of the state, but I feel again that if we’re gonna do this thing, and I think it has great, great potential, we need to make sure that we’re uplifting the students who truly, truly need it.”
Hornbuckle says by not adopting his amendment, it will set the state back.
“The concerns that I have is that we will go backwards. It will be, has potential, has potential to sort of segregate people as far as lower socioeconomic kids and higher socioeconomic kids, and I just don’t think we can afford that in our state. With the potential of charter schools being very, very good, we need to make sure that we craft it as best as we can to fit our demographics here in West Virginia,” Hornbuckle noted.
Delegate Pasdon says there were other amendments offered in the committee that, like Perry’s and Hornbuckle’s, she doesn’t believe are necessary.
“Well there were various amendments, you know, and for different reasons," Pasdon said, "What we wanted to do is preserve the integrity of the bill. We wanted to be sure that we were making children and students the focus of this legislation, and we’ve steered away from anything that did the opposite.”
Senate Bill 14 will be on first reading in the House this weekend.