Lawmakers should create pilot project
State Senate leaders’ position that West Virginia needs half a dozen or more charter schools gets most of the blame for the Legislature’s failure to enact a major public school improvement bill earlier this year. Gov. Jim Justice’s stance that he would not sign a bill including charter schools did not help.
What was referred to as an “omnibus education bill” originated in the Senate as SB 451. Officials of the three unions representing many public school employees hated it for various reasons. High on their list was a provision that would have permitted about half a dozen charter schools to be established in West Virginia. Justice sided with the unions, saying he could not accept a bill that included charter schools.
After the unions called their members out on strike for two days, there were attempts at compromise. Members of the House of Delegates passed a bill that would have cleared the way for just two charter schools — but the Senate rejected it.
As a result, nothing in SB 451, which included many uncontroversial, needed improvements, was adopted. Justice has called for a special session, to be held sometime this spring, to try again.
And the governor is relaxing his position. Just a few days after the regular session ended March 9, we were told he might agree to charter schools on the House bill model.
This week, Justice made it official during a visit to Greenbrier County. “I think the Dems, I think the unions, I think all will go with us to two or three pilot charter schools,” the governor said, according to MetroNews.
Good. Charter schools are not the education reform magic wand some seem to think they are. For one thing, some of the schools most in need of improvement are in rural areas where it is highly unlikely anyone would establish a charter.
But they have one critical value: They can serve as laboratories showing what is possible in education.
Many privately-run charter schools in other states are permitted to operate without having to comply with the dizzying variety of restrictions that apply to public schools. Results, not dotting all the “i’s” and crossing all the “t’s,” matter.
There has to be oversight and accountability, as Ohioans learned just a few years ago. But showing what can be accomplished with some flexibility can point the way to changes that would make public schools better.
Lawmakers in both chambers should proceed with a bill to establish a pilot program of two or three charter schools. Justice should agree. So should the unions.
School improvement will not happen without a spirit of innovation and compromise from all involved. And here in West Virginia, it simply must happen.