An editorial from The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — Education reform was among key priorities of Republican legislators in West Virginia this winter. Yet when lawmakers ended their regular session, a promising initiative had been shelved. It should not be permitted to gather dust.
Debate over whether to allow charter schools in the state was productive for much of the session. Important improvements were made to the bill.
But during the session’s final days, a dispute that had virtually nothing to do with school quality killed the bill. It involved whether lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and employees in charter schools would be protected specifically against discrimination.
Part of the controversy over the bill as a whole may have been because of misunderstandings over what it would and would not have done. It emphatically would not have permitted the types of charter schools that have received mixed reviews in some other states.
Two critical qualifiers were included in the West Virginia bill. First, for-profit charter schools would have been banned. Second, county boards of education would have had enormous power over charters.
Charter schools are valuable as alternatives to failing public schools. But another, perhaps even more important value lies in them.
Under the proposal this year, charter schools would have been exempted from many of the burdensome rules their public counterparts must obey. A few years’ experience with that approach could lead legislators to cut at least some of the red tape that makes it more difficult for all teachers to do their jobs.
Some special interests opposed the charter school bill. But state school Superintendent Michael Martirano took an intelligent view. After the legislative session ended, he told an audience in Huntington that “what I’m all about is making sure that whatever is proposed, that they’re quality schools that meet the same measure and accountability that our public schools and other institutions do …”
There has been talk about a special session of the Legislature this sunmer. That would give lawmakers an opportunity to deal with the unfinished business of charter schools and perhaps other education reform. Doing so would make the cost of a special session a bargain.