Liz McCormick Published

State Charter School Board Approves First 3 Charter Schools In West Virginia

Empty classroom with whiteboard

Updated on Nov. 10, 2021 at 4 p.m.

During its Nov. 10 meeting, the West Virginia Professional Charter School Board approved the first three brick-and-mortar public charter schools in the state’s history.

The schools will be located in the Eastern Panhandle, the Morgantown area and in Nitro in Kanawha County.

Eastern Panhandle Preparatory Academy will be based in Charles Town and serve children from kindergarten to 10th grade in Jefferson and Berkeley counties. It will be overseen by an education service provider called ACCEL Schools based in Ohio.

Nitro Preparatory Academy will also be run by ACCEL Schools and will be based in Nitro. It will serve children from kindergarten to 8th grade in Kanawha and Putnam counties.

“We congratulate the school boards of Eastern Panhandle Prep and Nitro Prep on the approval of their applications today,” said Chad Carr, executive vice president of ACCEL Schools. “We look forward to working with them and with both communities to begin serving students in fall 2022.”

Both schools expect a max enrollment of about 600 students.

In north central West Virginia, West Virginia Academy will be based in Morgantown and serve children in Monongalia and Preston counties. The school is expected to enroll a little more than 1,300 students and offer kindergarten through 12th grade.

“We are very excited about our approval and we are pressing forward to be ready for opening day this next fall,” said West Virginia Academy President John Treu. “Our approval along with two other schools is a major victory for West Virginia students and families who want a meaningful choice in public education … We will also raise the bar for the local school districts and improve education systems.”

In contrast, representatives from the state’s two largest teacher unions said they were not pleased with the news.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said he’s “disappointed” and feels the move by the state’s charter school board goes against a decision made last year by two county school boards that denied the creation of a charter school.

“When [the West Virginia Legislature] couldn’t get the [Monongalia and Preston county school boards] to authorize [West Virginia Academy], the legislature went back and created a board that essentially is made up of charter advocates, so I’m not surprised at all that they would authorize three schools,” said Lee. “What worries me is the money they will take away from our [traditional] public schools.”

American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia President Fred Albert argued the schools are not being set up in areas of critical need in West Virginia.

“The three new charter schools will be opened in areas of the state with exceptional existing public schools and a higher socioeconomic population compared to most communities in West Virginia,” said Albert. “If charter schools are really designed to improve education, why are they being opened in affluent, well-performing school districts instead of in poverty-stricken, disadvantaged communities?”

Chairman of the West Virginia Professional Charter School Board Adam Kissel said the new schools will provide more options for West Virginians.

“This is a great day for West Virginia’s children and families,” Kissel said. “Each school is unique, and each child is unique. When families have more education choices, more kids will be in schools that fit their needs the best.”

The West Virginia Professional Charter School Board is expected to meet again on Nov. 17 at 4 p.m. to discuss three proposed statewide virtual charter schools.

“All three [virtual school] applications are excellent,” said Kissel. “So the board will need to distinguish the relative demonstrated merit using objective criteria within the board’s discretion.”

Kissel said during Wednesday’s board meeting that they are still seeking an executive director.

West Virginia passed its first charter school legislation in 2019. In 2021, the law was revised by the legislature to allow up to 10 brick-and-mortar public charter schools to be approved within a three-year period. The law also permits virtual public charter schools, and it created the West Virginia Professional Charter School Board.

In 2018 and 2019, West Virginia public school teachers went on a statewide strike to demand better pay, health benefits and to speak out against the creation of charter schools in West Virginia.

A lawsuit remains pending in Kanawha County Circuit Court claiming the state’s charter law is unconstitutional, because it allows for charters to open without approval from local voters.