Bill supporting charter schools narrowly passes House of Delegates
After a marathon nine-hour debate on June 19, the West Virginia House of Delegates narrowly approved a bill permitting charter schools in our state.
The vote was 51-47, with two delegates absent. Had those two been present, one would have voted in favor of the bill and the other would have opposed it. The vote in that case would have been 52-48 (the same margin, four votes).
The bill that passed, HB 206, was a modified version of a bill the State Senate had passed a couple of weeks before. That bill would have permitted an undetermined number of charter schools to be immediately established.
The bill approved by the House set a limit of three charters for the time being. After 2023, three more charter schools may be established, and three more for every three-year period after that.
I think that provision is a smoke screen. Practically speaking, charters would not increase in number at any greater rate, than if there were no limits on the number.
I voted against HB 206, because I’m convinced charter schools would not be right for West Virginia, and I believe most of the people in the 67th House of Delegates District (which I represent) oppose charter schools. I also think there is overwhelming statewide opposition to charters.
Charter schools are, I believe, wrong for West Virginia, because they have been demonstrated to be ineffective in rural areas. West Virginia is one of the three or four most rural states in the U.S. I think most people understand that, which is why they oppose charter schools.
HB 206 also differs from the bill passed by the Senate, because it does not contain any of the provisions punishing teachers and school service workers for activism that were in the Senate bill. Plus, school vouchers, which had been contained in the original version of the “Omnibus” bill (passed by the Senate during the regular session) were no longer in the bill. The Senate had removed them from the bill before sending it to the House.
There are some good things about SB 206. But I don’t think they justify permitting charter schools. And every one of those good reform ideas was contained in the House version of the education reform bill passed by the House, with my support, back in March.
When the House re-convened on June 17, most observers thought the vote count would be dead, even at that point. All the 41 Democrats and at least six Republicans were firmly opposed to charter schools. There were about a half dozen Republicans who were on the fence.
Most people in the capitol were surprised, when Governor Jim Justice, who had said he strongly opposed charter schools, signaled he would sign the version of HB 206, when it was unveiled on June 17. I believe that the governor’s reversal caused most of the undecided Republicans to vote for the bill.