Next Step

Next Step

A public school improvement bill approved by the West Virginia House of Delegates Wednesday will now become law after its approval by the state Senate Monday.

Both state Senate President Mitch Carmichael and Gov. Jim Justice have said they agree with the measure.

With enactment will come a variety of significant improvements. Schools may have more counselors, who will be able to spend more time with students. Several small school districts, including Tyler County, will get more state funding. Educators and school support personnel will get a pay raise.

But two promising ideas — charter schools and innovation zones — are left somewhat up in the air.

Innovation zones already are part of state law. They provide the potential for existing public school districts to try new approaches.

A state Senate bill, rejected by the House, could have granted county school systems more flexibility on innovation zones. Such language appears to have been stripped from the measure approved by the House. At some point, legislators may want to revisit the issue.

Charter schools nearly killed the entire campaign for school improvement. The three unions representing many public school employees opposed charters vehemently. So did many Democrat lawmakers. Not one of them voted for the House bill.

Critics insist charters, which can receive taxpayer support, would divert money needed by public schools.

But both the Senate and House bills included stringent limits on charters, as we have explained. One key is that to be authorized, charters must be approved by school boards in the counties where they will operate.

And the House bill allows only three charters throughout the state, at first. Another three could be authorized in three years.

Given the many restrictions on charters — the House bill devotes 32 pages to them — it is difficult to imagine a rush to apply for even the three authorizations to be made available at first. One potential source of applicants exists, however.

Under the House bill, only “parents, community members, teachers, school administrators or institutions of higher learning” can apply to open charters.

Clearly, some colleges and universities have at their disposal assets that could be of great value in opening and operating charter schools. The next step on charters, then, may well be up to higher education in West Virginia.

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