Politicians and charters

Put yourself in the position of a county board of education member in West Virginia. In terms of the bugaboo much of the public school establishment has been wringing its hands and gnashing its teeth over — charter schools — you’re in the driver’s seat, at least if the Student Success Act becomes law.

State senators, in a party-line vote with Republicans winning, approved the SSA last week. It is a reprise of the Omnibus Education Bill, SB 451, shot down by the House of Delegates earlier this year. There are major differences between the SSA and SB 451, however.

One of them involves charter schools — private institutions that receive public money and are regulated to an extent by the state Board of Education. The education establishment, led by the three public school employee unions, hates charters. SB 451 included far more liberal provisions for such schools.

Under the SSA’s language, it’s highly unlikely many charters would be established, even if the bill becomes law.

That isn’t likely. The House of Delegates won’t convene its special session until June 17. Republican leaders there favor a multi-bill approach to schools, rather than the catch-all provisions of the SSA. So discussing the potential for charters under the SSA may be academic. Yes, pun intended.

But, under the SSA, no charter school could be established without authorization by the county’s board of education — or the state board.

Don’t hold your breath for state board members to authorize a charter opposed by their county counterparts, though it is possible.

But as introduced, the SSA would have allowed public colleges and universities to authorize up to four charters. That raised intriguing possibilities, as I mentioned last week.

Strange things happen on the way to a bill’s passage, however. Understand that measures such as the SSA are not just thrown together.

For a time, some senators liked the idea of college- or university-authorized charters.

That changed. After the Senate convened, several amendments to the SSA were approved. One of them eliminated higher education’s power to authorize charters.

Someone suddenly became concerned about colleges and universities horning in to show the public school establishment how education is done.

There’s still hope, however. Colleges and universities still can open charters — if authorized by county school boards.

Is there a county board interested enough in advancing public education to invite the higher ed folks in to open a charter school?

Just as important, is there anyone at the colleges and universities to whom the thought appeals? One suspects there is, otherwise the higher education provision wouldn’t have been included in the original SSA.

The whole idea behind trying charters, as outlined in the SSA, is to create “new, innovative and more flexible ways of education all children within the public school system … by advancing a renewed commitment to the mission, goals and diversity of public education.”

The italics are mine, intended to point out that the whole idea of charter schools in West Virginia is to set up what might be termed pilot projects to show what can be done by educators not hogtied by the current mountain of rules and regulations that govern public schools.

Let’s hope, then, that the House of Delegates includes charter school provisions something like those in the SSA.

The higher ed people must know something about pedagogy, or we wouldn’t rely on them to prepare our public school teachers and administrators. Their role is to show budding young teachers how it ought to be done.

How it has to be done to meet state and federal red tape comes later.

Think about it. Do we try something new — through colleges and universities, not for-profit charter school corporations — or continue on the path we’ve been on for decades?

How’s that been working out for us?

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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