Liz McCormick Published

Bill To Expand Charter Schools Is Slowed, Virtual Charter Enrollment Capped

An amendment offered by Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, in the Senate Education Committee on Feb. 23, 2021, drops the number of brick-and-mortar charter schools permitted in the state back down to three until 2023. His amendment also puts a cap on the number of students who can enroll in virtual charter schools.

A bill that would expand on West Virginia’s current public charter school law has now seen some changes since it left the House of Delegates. The Senate Education Committee considered the measure in a lengthy Tuesday evening meeting.

HB 2012, as it left the House of Delegates, allowed for up to 10 public charter schools to be established in the state over the next three years — that’s seven more schools than what’s currently allowed in state code.

But, on a narrow vote, the committee adopted an amendment offered by Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, that brought that number back down to three charter schools over the next three years. If successful, 10 charters would be allowed every three years after that.

Romano’s amendment also capped the number of students who could enroll in virtual public charter schools in the first three years at 1,500.

He said his amendment allows the state to tread cautiously, as there are currently no charter schools in the state.

“I just think we’re taking a big step here,” Romano said. “You guys want these schools. You want these charter schools. You want virtual charter schools. I understand you’re going to get what you want … Let’s see if they’re successful. Let’s see if they work in West Virginia before we open them up and take, potentially, 12,500 students out of the public school system in a statewide virtual program.”

He added: “That is a significant disruption. This will allow us to see them successfully be created and continue for a short period of time and then open it up.”

Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, was the only senator to speak against Romano’s amendment, which was later adopted on a roll call vote of 7 to 6.

Senators also adopted a committee amendment for the creation of up to two statewide virtual public charter schools. These virtual charters would each be allowed to enroll up to 5 percent of the student population currently in traditional schools, totaling 10 percent between the two. Local virtual public charter schools are still permitted.

The committee amendment also included specific reasons a public charter would be revoked at a school including fraud and misappropriation of funds. The amendment also permits public charter schools to act as their own Local Education Agency, or LEA, after being approved.

The bill now heads to the full Senate for consideration.