While many parts of Senate Bill 451 drove teachers out of their classrooms and into the streets to fight for their jobs as educators, bringing Charter Schools to West Virginia is a major sticking point in this fight.
The strike followed a Senate amendment that would have allowed the creation of up to seven charter schools in West Virginia, leaving educators, like Mercer County Kindergarten Teacher, Kendra Kelly highly opposed.
“They’re planning on taking funds from our already hurting public schools, and putting them into creating new charter schools,” Kelly said. “This says that creating competition will create a better environment, but it’s not like were competing to put out a product.”
West Virginia is one of only six states that has not passed laws to allow for charter schools. But you might be wondering: what is a Charter school?
They are defined as public schools of choice, meaning that families can choose where to send their children. The schools operate with freedom from some of the regulations that are imposed upon public schools, and West Virginia Educators, like Mercer County Education Assoiation President, Nicole McCormick, feel some of that freedom could hurt the students in their districts.
“The issue is that they take public money, that are not maintained or critically looked at in the same fashion, so educators may not have to have the same educational requirements,” McCormick said. “Charter Schools may not have to givethings like transportation to students.”
While West Virginia teachers on strike say charter schools will drain public funds, some educators in Virginia thought creating charter schools in their districts could benefit their students.
David Quanbeck is on the Educational Board in Middleburg, VA where they transformed a community elementary school that was targeted for possible closing, into Northern Virginia’s first charter program in 2014.
In Virginia, a unique law says that every charter school has to be operated under contract of the local school district. Quanbeck also said hiring teachers for Charter Schools in Virginia involves the same qualifications that other teachers in the district must meet, and creating charter programs gives parents the option of smaller class size and excelerated learning philosophy.
“I don’t think there necessarily has to be a difference or one of them necessarily has to be better or worse,” Quanbeck said. “I think it has to be judged by a per-school basis.”
Senate Bill 451 has different guidelines according to West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee.
Lee said no restrictions are set out in the bill for teacher qualifications, and it would be up to charter schools in West Virginia to set the minimum qualifications for teaching applicants.