By Tyler Arnold
(The Center Square) – An amended version of legislation to expand the use of charter schools in West Virginia passed the Senate and is headed back to the House for consideration.
Despite some tweaks to the original bill, the crux of the bill remains the same. It would allow the state to approve 10 charter schools every three years, which more than triples the current allowance of three per year. The Senate version would also permit a statewide virtual charter school and county-level virtual charter schools.
The amended House Bill 2012 garnered support from most of the Senate’s Republican members and passed the chamber 19-14. It also receives support from the bulk of House Republicans. The bill is sponsored by Del. Joe Ellington, R-Mercer.
Per the legislation, there would be an enrollment cap for charter schools at 10% of the statewide enrollment.
Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, sought to scale back certain provisions of the bill. His amendment was adopted by the Senate Education Committee last week, but ultimately rejected when the bill was debated on the Senate floor. The amendment would have delayed the charter school expansion and set a stricter cap of 1,500 students.
Although some Republicans voted with Romano to narrowly pass this amendment during committee, enough Senate Republicans voted in favor of an amendment from Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, which reversed those changes.
The legislation heads back to the House where lawmakers can either approve the Senate changes or reject them and send it back to the Senate. Now that Republicans have a supermajority in both chambers, lawmakers expected to pass the expansion bill.
Republican leaders and school-choice advocates support the legislation, arguing it would increase competition, raise the quality of education and provide parents with more options. The legislation is opposed by Democrats and public school teachers unions, which argue it would hurt public education by diverting money away from the current public school system.
West Virginia has been slower than most states in adopting school choice policies. The state passed its first legislation to establish charter schools in 2019 with the strict provisions laid out in current law.
The House of Delegates is also considering legislation to create a school voucher system, which would grant some parents to use public money to send their children to private schools or use the money for tutors and homeschooling necessities. This would redirect the tax money that would normally be spent to send their children to public schools.
House Bill 2013, which would set up the state’s first voucher system, initially passed the House, but then was reconsidered and sent back into the committee process for changes. The bill has been amended and will likely receive another vote this week. If approved, it will head to the Senate for consideration.
If both bills pass the state legislature, they will be sent to Gov. Jim Justice for consideration. The governor signed the original charter school legislation in 2019.