What Do Charter Schools Mean for Public Education in West Virginia? | State and region
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More than a thousand students are expected to attend West Virginia’s first four charter schools when they open later this month for the upcoming school year. The schools took several years to build, following a series of controversial bills and legal battles.
It’s one of many steps lawmakers have taken to expand educational alternatives in the state, but after a judge suspended a controversial school voucher program, charter schools are set to be closed. West Virginia’s first major experiment in diverting public school money to other educational programs. options.
Three years ago, West Virginia’s public school laws were changed, allowing the state to approve charter schools. More recently, state lawmakers passed a bill increasing the number of charters that can be licensed every three years.
Proponents of charter schools claim they would provide students with a richer and more individualized education. Others argue that these schools would compound existing problems in the state’s public education system.
While much is unclear about the charters’ impact on West Virginia, enrollment projections suggest these schools would compound the student population decline facing school districts across the state — as well that would siphon off money from already struggling districts.
What Are Charter Schools?
Charter schools serve as alternatives to traditional public education.
These schools often enroll fewer students and offer more individualized instruction.
In West Virginia, charter schools are supposed to provide a “new, innovative, and more flexible” education for students, according to the bill that established them.
Where do charters open in West Virginia?
Four charter schools will open for the next school year – two physical and two virtual.
West Virginia Academy, based in Morgantown, is expected to have more than 400 students. School president John Treu said the charter’s main catchment area extends to Preston County.
The other in-person charter school, Eastern Preparatory Academy in Jefferson County, plans to enroll more than 200 students.
A third in-person charter was planned for Nitro, on the Kanawha-Putnam County line, but the school was unable to secure a physical location. It could open in the fall of 2023 if approved by the state charter school board.
There will also be two virtual options open to students from any county, assuming those students have internet access.
How Are Charter Schools Funded In West Virginia?
In West Virginia, charter schools will rely primarily on funding from county school districts, and most of that money comes from the state.
Each year, public schools receive state funding based on the number of students they have; when a student transfers to a charter school, so does most of the money for that student. A bill passed by state lawmakers in 2021, which focused on establishing and overseeing charter schools, says 90% of per-student funding is required to track a student into a charter school.
For example, more than 350 students are expected to leave Monongalia County public schools in the fall, which will mean a loss of more than $2 million for the school district.
Charter schools can also receive funds from federal grants and donations, which critics say could leave these schools open to the vested interests of private donors.
Who can teach at a charter school?
It’s easier than ever to become a certified teacher in West Virginia: Last year, state lawmakers relaxed teacher certification requirements in an effort to make up for the growing shortage of teachers. Now anyone with a bachelor’s degree can become a certified teacher, if they pass a background check and complete state-mandated testing and training.
Charter schools often have more flexibility when it comes to hiring teachers, according to James Paul, executive director of the West Virginia State Charter Schools Approval Board. But due to recent state changes, the educational requirements for charter schools in West Virginia are almost the same as those for public schools.
To teach at a charter school, a person would only need to meet the school’s individual employment requirements — including a background check — or be a certified West Virginia teacher.
As part of its state contract, a charter school is required to develop a staffing plan, including qualifications for hiring teachers. The state charter school board must then approve the plan.
Who can apply and open a charter school in the state?
Almost anyone can submit an application to start a charter school in West Virginia.
This could be a parent, teacher, school administrator, or even a higher education institution. They would only need to receive tax-exempt status and have a contract authorized by the state charter school board, per state code.
Beginning July 1, 2023, the state may license up to 10 additional charter schools every three years.
What are the arguments for and against this option for students?
Charter schools are intended to provide tuition options that may not be found in a traditional public school setting. In West Virginia, these schools come at a time when families are increasingly turning away from the public school system.
For advocates like James Paul, charter schools offer alternatives for parents frustrated with traditional public schools.
“Charter schools provide additional educational options for families and increase the likelihood that every student in West Virginia will be matched with a school that best meets their individual needs,” he said.
Paul and other charter school supporters have seized on the “cultural divide” in public classrooms, such as debates over how to deal with issues of race and gender identity, as a way to advance options of “school choice”.
Paul also pointed out that charters would address equity issues in West Virginia by providing students with options outside of their school district. Others argue that schools would create new disparities.
Although charters may not charge tuition, attending can be difficult for students who do not have transportation or internet access (for virtual charter schools).
Some critics worry that charter schools will exacerbate existing budget problems facing school districts across the county.
With the emergence of charter schools and other privatized educational options, researchers like West Virginia University professor Erin McHenry-Sorber say county schools will always face running costs. similar, but with less funding.
“[County schools] always need the same number of teachers. They still need the same number of facilities and other employees,” McHenry-Sorber said. “And so really, they just do the same amount of work or require the same amount of resources as before. But they have fewer resources to work with.
Other critics argue that the concept of a charter school system has generally not proven successful in rural states like West Virginia.
“As with everything, there are cases of successful charter schools. There are cases of less than successful public schools around the world,” said WVU Professor Matthew Campbell. “There could be big differences in the context of these ‘success stories’ that need to be examined and critiqued to understand what this means for West Virginia.”
How might charter schools affect educational outcomes for children in West Virginia?
For individual students, the charters will need to show that their students can meet state-defined student performance standards — the same standardized tests that public school students must pass. If they can’t, the charter school could be forced to close.
At the county level, some school districts can expect to continue to face fiscal challenges as their funding is used to support charter schools in their districts. This is part of a larger shift towards alternative and privatized educational options.
Campbell said charter schools are one of many efforts to dismantle public education in the state.
“This is a broad category of movements, initiatives and policy changes that all seem consistent with a devaluation of public education with the apparent intent of degrading it,” he said.
Charter schools, built on the principle of school choice, will provide some West Virginia families with individualized education options, while indirectly excluding others.