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Expanding School Choice in W.Va.

House Bill 2012 to adjust the public charter school pilot program in West Virginia has been handed to the state Senate. It could ensure Mountain State parents have choices for their children’s education, but House Education Committee Minority Chairman Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, is right: ” … slow down and let’s take a more concerted effort to make this legislation that’s going to impact our children a lot better,” he said on the House floor last week.

As it stands, the bill would change the maximum number of public charter schools from three to 10. To put that in perspective, since the program’s inception there has been only two attempted applications, from parents in Monongalia and Putnam counties. The school boards in those counties rejected the proposal.

HB2012 creates another layer of bureaucracy with the West Virginia Professional Charter School Board. It also would be able to authorize charters. Lawmakers must not give Charleston too much control over local schools, charter or otherwise, as they hammer out this measure.

Other concerns voiced by lawmakers are the lack of requirements for transportation or nutrition, whether the bill discriminates against students with disabilities, and whether the state’s poor broadband might exclude students from virtual charter schools.

Incredibly, remarks by House Democrats expressing those concerns were initially not included in the appendix of the House Journal.

“It goes against transparency in government,” said House Minority Whip Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, whose measure to include the remarks was rejected before Majority Caucus Chairwoman Diana Graves, R-Kanawha, changed her mind.

The attempted omission is concerning, and begs the question: Why did those in favor of the measure hope no one would read arguments against it?

As state senators wade through the measure, the goal of the bill remains important. West Virginia parents have suffered for generations knowing the public education system here routinely ranks dead last in national reports. Just last week, West Virginia placed 50th as the “least educated” state in the U.S., according to WalletHub. Moving that needle is essential if lawmakers are genuine in their hope to attract and retain residents.

A more robust charter school system must therefore give all parents a choice. It must not deepen the divide between the haves and have nots. It must not rob traditional public schools of resources. State senators have a tall task on their hands as they consider this one. They must listen to the ideas and concerns of all stakeholders, and ignore the urge to rush it through. The future of education in our state depends on it.

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