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Local control provision tips charter school vote

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A handful of state Senate Republicans say they voted for charter schools legislation Monday only after a significant change was made to the bill.

Senate Bill 14 passed 18-16 along party lines Monday evening. The vote followed several weeks of debates and political maneuverings as Democrats sought to kill the controversial bill and Republicans worked to keep it alive.

Senate Majority Whip Daniel Hall, R-Wyoming, said despite the Republican party’s support of charter schools, he and several Republican senators resisted the bill because of concerns surrounding local boards of education.

“One of the things I always try to support is local control and local options,” he said Tuesday. “The way the bill was introduced, there was always an appeals process or directive from the top down as to whether a charter school is going to exist.”

Hall also said the topic of charter schools remains divisive with a range of strong opinions.

“I had mixed input from my home district. I had teachers saying it was a terrible idea, parents saying it was needed, and people who didn’t know what charter schools were,” he said. “It was all over the board.”

Sen. David Nohe, R-Wood, said throughout the process he was one of the vocal Republican opponents to the bill.

“The bill was pulled four times because they just didn’t have the votes to pass it,” Nohe said. “Some of us were extremely uncomfortable with the way it was written.”

Nohe said in its original form the bill created a committee to oversee the charter school and gave authority over the school to that group.

“A lot of us felt the local board of education would know if they wanted to create a charter school or not,” he said. “The way it was written, that local committee could have overruled that decision.”

Prior to discussion on the full bill, the Senate approved via voice vote an amendment altering a significant portion of the bill.

Under the new wording, residents could appeal a school board’s decision to not create a charter school to the state Board of Education. Even then, Nohe said, the decision would remain with the local board, though the state board could urge them to reconsider.

Nohe said without those changes, he would have voted no.

“I had hundreds and hundreds of emails asking me not to vote for the bill, and I would not have voted for the bill the way it was originally written,” he said.

Senate Pro Tem Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, said she also opposed the original bill because it took authority away from the local school boards.

“I told (Republican leaders) if the bill took authority from the county board, I would not vote for it,” she said Tuesday. “I would vote for it if local county boards had that authority.”

Under the amended version, “if your local school board doesn’t want it, it’s not going to happen,” she said.

Hall said he believes the amended version returns the decision to the local level.

“Overall I think we put together a pretty decent framework for the charter school concept,” he said.

Public charter schools are like public schools but have more financial and curriculum flexibility. Republicans have long pushed for charter schools, saying the state’s current education system is not working and charter schools would allow more say in children’s educations by parents and community members. Democrats have warned charter schools have not been shown to perform better than traditional public schools, and many have had a history of mismanagement.

Officials also are concerned the schools would ultimately serve only students from more affluent families and would further degrade public education.

If the bill is signed into law, the state would create 10 charter schools over the next five years at the rate of two a year. West Virginia is one of only eight states that do not allow charter schools.

The bill has been sent to the House of Delegates for consideration and approval.

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