Bill allowing public charter schools expected to be debated again

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Bill allowing public charter schools expected to be debated again
By Matt Maccaro | WV MetroNews

One of the most controversial bills from last year’s legislative session is expected to be back on the table this week.

The House of Delegates Education Committee is expected to take up a bill allowing for public charter schools in West Virginia.

Currently 43 other states and the District of Columbia have public charter schools. Delegate Paul Espinosa (R-Jefferson) and Education Committee Chair Paul Espinosa says the bill allows for some flexibility.

“It really is about choice. Since I have been elected to the legislature, I’ve very much wanted to advocate and introduce legislation that expands school choice,” he said on MetroNews “Talkline” Monday.

Opponents of charter schools argue that having them in place could decrease funding to county school systems, many of which are already underfunded. State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Martirano said he supports charter schools, but that’s a legitimate concern.

“I am a strong supporter of choice opportunities,” he said. “As we promote innovation and the work that the governor’s provided in his State of the State address, I’m a strong supporter of that. But again, eyes wide open so that we’re not creating an additional problem based on the financial aspect of it.”

Espinosa didn’t see competition as a bad thing when it comes to education.

“Why should not local parents, local teachers and local administrators at the county level make that determination as to what education delivery program best fits the needs of students?”

Espinosa thought that successful charter schools in other states demonstrated both a competitive application process and accountability from parents and educators.

“There has to be that process; a very strict rigorous process,” he said. “There has to be strong accountability. One of the carets is that local educators and parents and administrators (are) going to be provided with a great deal of flexibility. But if you don’t partner that very strong accountability, we’ve seen that public charter schools aren’t as successful.”

Martirano was open to the idea, but urged legislators to consider all sides of the issue.

“As those conversations are occurring about charter schools, I just put an air of caution there to say how does West Virginia fit regarding the financial aspects of that, and as we look into program availability and facilities for those schools as well.”

In the 2015 Legislative Session, a bill that would authorized county school boards to form charter schools in West Virginia nearly passed in the House of Delegates after passing the Senate, but died without a vote at the end of the 60-day session.