House committee advances charter school, vouchers bills

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A bill that would increase the number of charter schools allowed in West Virginia has been sent to the House floor.

The House Education Committee approved its version of the bill on a 16-7 vote Thursday. The amended bill would increase the number of charter schools allowed every three years from three to 10.

The bill also would expand the program to allow for online-only charter schools, among other things.

The committee also advanced a separate bill by voice vote to allow school vouchers called education saving accounts. That bill now goes to the House finance committee. It would give parents several options, including using public funding to send their children to private schools.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill in 2019 that allows for the creation of charter schools. The signing came after a gridlocked special legislative session on education that drew heavy protests from public school teachers.

Educators and Democrats argued that the move to install charters and education vouchers was driven by outside interests that will steer money away from public schools.

Currently there are no charter schools in West Virginia and one application has been submitted so far. In December, the boards of education in Monongalia and Preston counties rejected an application for a charter school by the West Virginia Academy. The academy is suing the state Department of Education over the decision.