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House rejects Democratic amendments to charter school bill

Photos Courtesy/WV Legislative Photography CHARTER SCHOOLS — House Education Committee Chairman Joe Ellington, left, and House Education Committee Minority Chairman Sean Hornbuckle debate amendments to update the state public charter school pilot project.

CHARLESTON — Republicans in the House of Delegates successfully blocked several attempts by Democratic lawmakers, Monday, to amend an update to West Virginia’s public charter school pilot project.

The House adopted two out of six amendments to House Bill 2012 Monday, relating to public charter schools. The bill is on third reading and up for passage today.

HB 2012 would amend the pilot charter school program created by House Bill 206 during a special session in 2019. The bill would change the maximum number of public charter schools in a three-year period from three to 10. Approved charter schools would need an audit after two years of operation.

The bill creates a new West Virginia Professional Charter School Board as an authorizer for charter school applications. Virtual charter schools would be allowed under the bill’s provision and give charter school applicants 30 days to appeal a decision by a local authorizer, such as a county board of education, to the state Board of Education. An amendment adopted Monday from House Education Committee Chairman Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, would require two or more county boards of education to act together and function as one charter school authorizer when a public charter school applicant plans to serve a multi-county area.

If the combined multi-county authorizer rejects an application, an individual county can approve the application, but the school would only be able to serve students in that particular county. The amendment comes in light of a lawsuit filed last week with the state Supreme Court by a public charter school applicant after both Monongalia and Preston counties rejected their application last year.

Another amendment by Ellington and Delegate Joe Statler, R-Monongalia, would require the new Professional Charter School Board created by the bill to investigate complaints against public charter schools when submitted to the board, as well as give the board power to audit charter school operations at the board’s discretion. Both amendments were adopted by voice vote.

But amendments offered by Democratic House members were soundly rejected mostly along party lines. The amendments were either offered by House Education Committee Minority Chairman Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, or offered by Hornbuckle and another delegate.

An amendment offered by Hornbuckle and Delegate Lisa Zukoff, D-Marshall, would have required charter school applicants to include a transportation plan in the application. The amendment failed 25-72.

“Given that almost 50 percent of the schools in West Virginia are rural and about 95,000 children in West Virginia live in those rural districts, I think it’s important that we have the folks that are going to start a charter school to actually provide a description of any transportation services to be provided to the students by the school,” Zukoff said. “If they’re not going to provide any, they can say no, but I think the rural students stand to lose the most in the charter school area, and I want to make sure that’s covered in the charter school application.”

Another amendment by Hornbuckle and Delegate Mike Pushkin, D-Kanawha, would have required three of the 10 public charter schools be placed in underperforming school districts. That amendment was rejected 24-73. Ellington raised his objections to the amendment.

“I’m not opposed to the concept of public schools designing their programs to meet the needs of their students, particularly those located in areas where children are historically underperforming,” Ellington said. “But I am opposed to dictating the location, the curriculum, the assessments and the instruction of public charter schools.”

Hornbuckle’s final two amendments would have given the Professional Charter School Board the authority to revoke a charter if an authorizer found non-compliance with the charter contract and strip out all language allowing for virtual charter schools. Hornbuckle said with the state’s broadband issues and with the inadequacies of remote learning brought to light by the COVID-19 pandemic, it doesn’t make sense to allow virtual charter schools.

“I would venture to say, in most of your home districts, virtual is not the number one priority that we should be having within our education system,” Hornbuckle said.

Both Hornbuckle amendments failed 25-72 and 22-75 respectively. If the House passed HB 2012 last today, the bill would head to the state Senate.

(Adams can be contacted at sadams@newsandsentinel.com)

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