Justice, Carmichael talk charter schools as special session resumption draws near

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By Jeff Jenkins, WV MetroNews

RONCEVERTE, W.Va. — Speaking in Greenbrier County Tuesday, Gov. Jim Justice said he believes all parties can agree to have a few pilot charter schools as part of an anticipated education reform package.

“I think the Dems, I think the unions, I think all will go with us to two or three pilot charter schools. I don’t think that’s going to be a deal breaker,” Justice said.

The governor, who was in Ronceverte to hand out a sewer grant, added he hopes education reform, which will be the focus of an upcoming special session resumption, will also include help for teachers in purchasing supplies, helping counties that have lost student population along with incentives to attract and keep math and science teachers.

Several of those provisions were part of SB 451. The bill that was the cause of a two-day education workers strike earlier this year. The bill passed the Senate, was changed by the House, was changed again by the Senate before it died in the House.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael said Tuesday on MetroNews “Talkline” teachers spoke a lot about needing flexibility during recent education reform forums sponsored by the state Department of Education.

“They want the flexibility and the options that are available, sort of like charter school aspects,” Carmichael said.

Unions representing teachers have for the most part been against talk of charter schools and education savings accounts. They liked the House’s two charter school provision more than the Senate’s proposal of a half-dozen.

Carmichael said charter schools and education savings accounts will be part of the special session.

“I want to make the case over and over and over again that when we have choice, options, when we have power, then students, parents and teachers, will have the flexibility and options to choose what’s right for education attainment levels. One size does not fit all,” Carmichael said.

The eight public forums conducted by the Department of Education have been an analysis of SB 451, Carmichael said.

“The education community, those most invested in it, loved about 17, 18, 19 of the 20, 25 things that were in the bill. The flash point is education savings accounts for special needs children and victims of bullying,” Carmichael said.

Justice said again Tuesday reform means improvement not a total rebuild of the state’s education program.

“I don’t think we’re broken. I don’t think our system is torn to pieces and broken. I think really and truly that we’ve got good people we’ve just gotta work at getting better,” Justice said.

The state Board of Education will conduct its monthly meeting Wednesday. The board is expected to discuss education reform but the final report from the forums won’t be ready for a few more weeks.