Lawmakers continue to refine charter schools legislation
By Joel Ebert, Charleston Daily Mail
Attempts to further refine the particulars of a charter school bill, which has been discussed for more than two weeks and remains the Senate Education Committee’s top priority, continued once again on Thursday.
Lawmakers approved what committee chairman Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, called a “laundry list” of amendments that were drafted as a result of conversations with those that would be tasked with implementing such a system.
The amendments range from altering the requirements for annual reports to the state superintendent to changing the language used to explain how students are selected to attend the schools.
The amendments were agreed upon by stakeholders, including the West Virginia School Board Association, the Board of Education, the Department of Education, the West Virginia Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, Sypolt said.
“These are a laundry list of things where they found problems with our bill and we agreed to that these things need to be corrected,” Sypolt said of the amendments.
The committee chairman said the latest amendments will be included in the bill and allow the committee to move forward with further perfecting the charter school legislation. With another meeting scheduled for Friday morning — in which charter schools will once again be the main topic — the committee is in its second straight week of discussing the bill.
“Until we get this one out of committee this will be our top priority,” Sypolt said of the charter school bill.
As charter schools take up a large portion of its time, the committee continues to add to an already long list of bills that have been assigned to it. As of Thursday, the panel has advanced just five bills, with another 35 in the wings.
The list includes the charter school bill, which Sypolt admits still needs work. “We’re not anywhere near done yet,” Sypolt said after Thursday’s meeting.“This (the amendments) is just the foundational stuff where we recognized there were problems with the bill after we talked with the rest of the people involved and we realized we need to clean some stuff up before we even start the amendment process.”
Big and small issues are still waiting to be addressed, including two bills pertaining to Common Core standards and another for teacher raises.
Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, who serves as vice chairwoman of the education committee, said she is hopeful a final version of the charter school bill will be reached soon in order to address other issues.
Boley hopes to see one of her Common Core bills be taken up in the coming weeks. Committee member
John Unger, D-Berkeley, said although the charter school legislation is a “big bill” that can’t be rushed, with the committee focusing so much on one issue, other topics are getting lost in the mix.
“We ought to be looking at more of our curriculum,” he said. Unger said another issue he would like to address is the lack of funding in his district for special education.
“We ought to be looking at what makes schools successful and attractive throughout the state. What makes them successful is qualified teachers,” he said. “We should not just be trying to carve a special school system.”
Sen. Mike Romano, D-Harrison, who also sits on the committee, believes the charter school bill is a priority of the majority party this session.
“They realize it’s highly complicated with a lot of resistance,” he said. “Their goal is to address people’s concerns but to pass it out.”
Romano said he wanted to make sure the final version of the charter school bill is as transparent and nondiscriminatory as possible.