CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — The West Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday passed a bill that would increase the number of public charter schools.
The bill passed on a 66-32 vote with two delegates not voting. All Democrats voted against the bill.
The bill, which now goes to the Senate, would increase the number of charter schools allowed every three years from three to 10. It also would allow for online-only charter schools, among other things.
“We’re a diverse state. We have different geographic regions that have different needs,” said Delegate Joe Ellington, a Mercer County Republican and the bill’s sponsor. “This just gives opportunity. If people don’t want to take advantage of that opportunity, they don’t have to. So it’s strictly voluntary.”
Republican Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill in 2019 that allows for the creation of charter schools. The signing came after a gridlocked special legislative session on education that drew heavy protests from public school teachers.
Educators and Democrats argued that the move to install charters was driven by outside interests that will steer money away from public schools.
“What we’re not doing today is listening to our constituents,” said Delegate Sean Hornbuckle, a Cabell County Democrat. “Across the state, there’s not a groundswell of constituents that have clamored for charter schools.”
Currently there are no charter schools in West Virginia and one application has been submitted so far. In December, the boards of education in Monongalia and Preston counties rejected an application for a charter school by the West Virginia Academy. The academy is suing the state Department of Education over the decision.
“I can’t help wonder how wonderful our public schools would be if we were to put the same amount of enthusiasm into them as we are in creating this charter school (bill),” said Delegate Ed Evans, a McDowell County Democrat.
The House also passed a separate bill that would establish investment accounts for vocational and trade students similar to college savings accounts. It now moves to the Senate.