Liz McCormick Published

House Passes Charter School, Jumpstart Bills

House Education Chair Del. Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, takes questions on HB 2012 during a House floor session on Feb. 16, 2021.

The West Virginia House of Delegates has passed two much-watched education bills in the second week of this year’s state legislative session.

HB 2012 would increase the number of public charter schools permitted in the state. The bill allows for up to 10 public charter schools to be established over a three-year period — seven more schools than what’s currently in state code. The bill also allows for virtual public charter schools, among other things.

West Virginia, which passed a public charter schools law in 2019, does not yet have any charters.

Democratic members of the chamber voiced concerns that establishing public charters, will steer funding away from traditional public schools, which they argue should receive more support, not less.

“I know that’s not the intent, but that will be the consequence as these children are pulled out and monies are taken from the public schools,” said Del. Ric Griffith, D-Wayne. “[Traditional public schools’] bills will remain the same, their overhead will remain the same, but their ability to serve the remaining children will be diminished.”

Del. Ed Evans, D-McDowell, agreed with Griffith’s concerns. “I can’t help but wonder how wonderful our public schools would be if we were to put the same amount of enthusiasm into them as we are into creating this charter school,” Evans said.

Other Democratic members expressed concerns that virtual charter schools will create unfair advantages for certain students. Particularly, Democrats argued some students in rural areas, where access to the internet is not always reliable, would be left out.

“This virtual school provision of the bill, I have some serious concerns,” said Del. Cody Thompson, D-Randolph. “Because we’re essentially going to be creating inequity in education. Inequity, in that the infrastructure is not there. So, we’re going to tell kids who live in the more rural parts of the county, or where there’s not broadband access, that you cannot partake in this.”

Del. Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, speaks in opposition to HB 2012 during a House floor session on Feb. 16, 2021.

Perry Bennett
WV Legislative Photography
Del. Cody Thompson, D-Randolph, speaks in opposition to HB 2012 during a House floor session on Feb. 16, 2021.

House Education Chair Joe Ellington, a Republican from Mercer County, was the only delegate who stood to speak in favor of the proposed legislation. He argued the bill expands options for families, especially with the virtual option.

“This bill gives choice,” Ellington said. “[It] gives opportunity, because some kids did well on virtual. They may be perfect for this type of setting. That’s where their parents have to decide if that’s what’s good for them … But I think, you know, we have to start somewhere. Just because we don’t have everything in place [with broadband infrastructure], doesn’t mean we can’t start somewhere.”

Ellington also pointed out how the needs of each county is different.

“We’re a diverse state. We have different geographic regions that have different needs. This just gives opportunity,” he said. “If people don’t want to take advantage of that opportunity, they don’t have to. So, it’s strictly voluntary.”

The bill passed 66 to 32. All Democrats voted to reject the bill. HB 2012 now heads to the Senate for its consideration.

The House also passed another bill in Tuesday’s floor session — one that would establish investment accounts for vocational and trade students, similar to college savings accounts.

HB 2001 would create the West Virginia Jumpstart Savings Program. The program would permit a tax-free savings plan for individuals working in trades such as welding or electrical work.

Investments in these savings accounts could be used to pay for tools, equipment, certifications, apprenticeships, expenses or supplies needed for a trade or occupation. The bill requires an initial $25 deposit to open an account.

Although the lead sponsor of the bill is House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, the initiative was a campaign promise of newly elected West Virginia State Treasurer Riley Moore.

“This is a tremendous bipartisan show of support for our Jumpstart Savings Plan, which I firmly believe will help us build up our labor force here in West Virginia,” Moore said in a press release. “This savings plan will benefit countless future workers in our state by empowering them and removing a final barrier to entry to the workforce. I look forward to working with our Senate colleagues to get this bill to the governor’s desk.”

The bill passed the House chamber 96 to 0 and now heads to the Senate for further consideration.