Liz McCormick Published

Two Statewide Virtual Charter Schools Are Approved By W.Va. Charter Board

Mother using laptop teaching with her son online at home in his

The state’s charter school board approved West Virginia’s first virtual charter schools on Wednesday. The news comes exactly one week after the board approved West Virginia’s first brick-and-mortar charters.

Five public charter schools are now expected to open in West Virginia by the fall of 2022. Last week, the West Virginia Professional Charter School Board approved three brick-and-mortar schools — Eastern Panhandle Preparatory Academy, Nitro Preparatory Academy and West Virginia Academy. This week, the board also approved two virtual, statewide charter schools.

Following this week’s vote, board member Dewayne Duncan called it a historic moment for West Virginia and for school choice.

“The authorization of these brick-and-mortars, and the authorization of these online programs, it opens up a world of opportunity for West Virginia students and their families,” Duncan said.

The two virtual schools will be available to K-12 students statewide and offer a max enrollment that ranges from 2,000 to 2,500 students, depending on the school.

Those two schools are West Virginia Virtual Academy and Virtual Preparatory Academy of West Virginia. Both schools will be required to provide technology to students who attend their schools, with physical offices located in the state.

Initially, the board considered three virtual applications, but state law only allows for two virtual, statewide charter schools.

Adam Kissel, chairman of the West Virginia Professional Charter School Board, said while the rejected virtual school had a strong application, the two that were approved offered a bit more in their curriculums for college and career readiness.

“At a time when we have perhaps 10 million unfilled jobs in the United States and a continuing need for economic development in West Virginia, it makes good sense that our board would make workforce development into curriculum a central criterion for determining which applicants to approve,” Kissel said.

Last week, board members also accepted the withdrawal of the application for a proposed brick-and-mortar school called the Shepherd Aviation Academy.

Of the five approved public charter schools, three of them will be run by the same education service provider — an organization called ACCEL Schools based in Ohio.

The other two schools will be run by different entities — one called K12 Virtual Schools LLC and another spearheaded by Morgantown resident and educator John Treu.

But despite the celebrations from supporters, Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said he has several concerns, namely that the power to approve or deny charters in West Virginia is not in the hands of local voters.

“We have local school boards that have been voted on and elected by the citizens of West Virginia,” Albert said. “How does this fit with our local school boards, who should be overseeing the education of our students in our state and working with communities that they’re familiar with?”

A lawsuit on this issue is pending in Kanawha County Circuit Court.

Albert also expressed concerns about adequate broadband access for the virtual schools and with the locations of the brick-and-mortar schools. The physical schools will be in the Eastern Panhandle, the Morgantown area and in Nitro in Kanawha County, which he says are affluent areas.

Albert argued the charters should be seeking to locate in critical need areas such as McDowell County.

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, and up to two, statewide virtual schools. The law also created the West Virginia Professional Charter School Board to act as the state’s sole charter school authorizer. Kissel said they are continuing a search for an executive director.

The state’s charter school board could still approve up to seven more brick-and-mortar schools by July 1, 2023.

Kissel said the next step for the board is to meet with all five applicants within the next 90 days to sign contracts.

The next meeting of the West Virginia Professional Charter School Board will be on Friday Dec. 3 at 8 a.m.