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Charter school hearing splits interest groups

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Charter school hearing splits interest groups
The Associated Press

CHARLESTON - Business interests and union groups fell on opposite sides of a debate Wednesday over whether to allow public charter schools in West Virginia.

The hour-long House of Delegates public hearing came on the heels of the new Republican majority's push to make West Virginia the 43rd state that allows charter schools.

The GOP has taken control of both chambers for the first time in more than eight decades, and charter-school bills in both the House and Senate are now starting to move.

Charter schools have more flexibility in using public money and don't charge tuition. In the bill floated by Republican lawmakers, student achievement would factor into teacher pay and whether to keep charter schools open after a three-year introductory period, and every five years after that.

"(Charter schools) are putting pressure on the entire system to change and serve as a catalyst for positive growth and innovation," said LuAnn Adams of West Virginians for Education Reform.

Union officials and some teachers expressed doubt about how charter schools perform versus public schools. They said the reform would allow for inequality across student populations, and take away from regular public school funding.

"You're creating a system of haves and have-nots," said Tega McGuffin, an Oak Hill High School teacher.

West Virginia AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue also warned that the reform could turn charter school workers into at-will employees, with little job security.

West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said there hasn't been sufficient emphasis on newly designed Innovation Zones, where public non-charter schools can get waivers from state education policies and additional money, in certain cases. It passed the Legislature last year.

But charter school advocates pointed to West Virginia's poor educational performance and economic problems as reasons to try a new path.

"As a parent, we need a structural change to what (teachers) are going through, what we're asking of students, and what we're asking our teachers to do every day," said Eugenie Taylor of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.