Members of the Senate approved a bill Monday evening that allows for the creation or conversion of a public school to a public charter school in West Virginia.
A public charter school is a school that uses government funding, but is not overseen by the county Board of Education, giving the school's administrators and teachers more flexibility in how they deliver education. The schools, however, are subject to state education standards.
The Senate Education Committee worked the bill for weeks, hearing from stakeholders every step along the way, but the bill stalled in the chamber over the weekend as Senators negotiated some final details, which ultimately were not agreed to by Democratic members of the body.
The bill was approved 18-16 on a straight party line vote.
Former Senate Education Chair Bob Plymale was in on those negotiations and offered amendments to the majority, some of which were incorporated into the bill Monday on the floor, but Plymale told members he wasn't satisfied with the final bill, particularly when it comes to the oversight of school and student performance at the charters.
Education performance is currently overseen by the Office of Education Performance Audits, or OEPA. in the state Department of Education.
“Even though it gives some verbiage in this related to OEPA, it does not explicitly say that it will be looked at on student performance, assessments and school performance. That’s really what you want to be looking at on this,” Plymale said.
Sen. Bob Beach was more concerned with the financial audits of the schools. The bill does require an annual audit by an independent organization, but Beach said the language in the bill is the same adopted in many other states across the country who created public charter schools. Many of those states also had to revisit the language after embezzlement scandals, he said.
Republicans stood to back the bill many said gives students in West Virginia another option, another chance to succeed, including Education Chair Dave Sypolt in an emotional address to the body.
“I’ve said over the years, I remember on the campaign trial many times and education is always a big issue, one of my tag lines in front of a whole lot of people, I’m really not an education guy. I’ve said it many times. Mr. President, when the chairmanship of Senate Education was offered and I accepted I promised you I’d do one thing. I promised you I’d do the best job I could and I only hope that I haven’t let you and the state of West Virginia down. I believe in my heart that passing this legislation is an opportunity that has until now been unavailable to our parents and our students.” -Sen. Dave Sypolt,R., Preston County
The bill now heads to the House of Delegates for its consideration. The last day of the legislative session is March 14.