Senate committee moves bill to allow creation of alternative public charter schools

MORGANTOWN – The Senate School Choice Committee advanced a bill on Wednesday to enable the creation of alternative high-risk population public charter schools.

The school would be requred school to have an unduplicated count of at least 70% of its total enrollment, upon first entry to the school, comprised of high-risk students, and to obtain approval from the Charter School Board certifying the school meets the criteria.

High-risk students are defined as those: who have been expelled; suspended more than 10 days in a school year; wards or dependents of the court; recovered dropouts; habitually truant; have been retained more than once in kindergarten through grade eight; are credit deficient; have a high-level transiency in terms of changing schools; are foster youth.

Students who are pregnant or parenting were originally in the list, but Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, questioned why.

Committee chair Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said that sometimes they may not be able to continue attending school and might need some schedule flexibility, such as attending only two days per week.

But Rucker saw Boley’s concern that including them among others who’ve been suspended or expelled might appear as a form of stigma. The committee agreed to her conceptual amendment to move pregnant and parenting students to the bottom of the list, changing the language to indicate students who need greater flexibility in scheduling or have circumstances which would benefit from this type of schooling.

That new language will get tweaked before the bill comes to the floor, they said.

Rucker is sole sponsor of the bill and explained a bit about some of the thought behind it.

As far as attendance, some students might only attend for a short time, until they’re able to return to regular school. Others may stay and graduate from one. The schools offer such things as individualized instruction, smaller class sizes and greeter flexibility.

Sometimes these alternative charter schools are situated inside a traditional school but operate as a charter, she said.

She visited schools in Georgia and Arizona, she said. “It just blew me away how amazingly they’re handling this particular, very challenging population in a very efficient manner.”

Rucker said she believes state code already allows for these alternative charters, but the bill would give some reassurance to charters operating in other states that they are welcome here.

“I don’t know why in West Virginia we have such difficulty with trying something new,” she said. The Legislature has tried to encourage counties to share services, find efficiencies, use flexibility in running their schools and obtaining funding. It just doesn’t seem to be enough to encourage the public schools to try something different.

She hopes the bill would encourage and support more of creative thinking in the public education system, she said.

The committee approved the bill in a unanimous voice vote. It is set to go next to Finance but Rucker said the bill would have no revenue impact so she’ll try to get that waived so it can go straight to the full Senate.

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