This week several important bills were signed into law by West Virginia Governor Justice that will bolster charter schools in the Mountaineer State. The changes that arose from several different legislative bills during the 2023 WV legislative session impacted a number of important areas that include permitting greater participation in athletic and academic competition for charter students, improving support for safety and security, and bolstering multiple funding sources to ensure more of the existing state education funds follow the charter students to their school of choice. While there were several other important legislative priorities, including tax cuts and restructuring the programs under the DHHR, making improvements to the charter law was not lost in the shuffle and remained a high priority for the West Virginia state legislature this session. The updated laws will place all charter schools, including West Virginia Academy, on a stronger foundation throughout West Virginia going forward to better serve families and communities.
There were several legislators that played key roles to improve the West Virginia charter law. Joe Ellington, who is also the chair of the Education Committee in the House of Delegates, was the lead sponsor for the most comprehensive charter bill this session, HB 3084 (Delegate Joe Statler was a co-sponsor of the bill). Senators Mike Oliverio and Patricia Rucker sponsored a nearly identical bill originating in the Senate and also sponsored or promoted other important charter legislation including SB 47, SB 449, SB 510, and SB 2827. The Senate Education committee, chaired by Senator Amy Grady (pictured above with student pages from West Virginia Academy), was extremely efficient with respect to recommending charter legislation to the full senate for passage. There were several other bill sponsors and committee representatives that lent support to this effort. Lastly, Governor Justice has consistently been signing each charter school bill into law after passage in the House and Senate.
Prior versions of the charter law were written in a way that allowed the WVDE to direct substantial portions of the funding for charter students to the county school districts where the student resides. The public school districts did not share that funding with charter schools nor did they provide any services to charter students so retaining those funds was essentially an unearned windfall for the public school districts. The revised law now sends most of that funding to the charter schools as originally intended by increasing the basic foundation funding allowance by almost ten percent. That change alone will increase funding to West Virginia Academy by around $200,000 a year. The updated law also notes that the legislature intends that "comparable funding levels from existing and future sources" that apply to non-charter public schools should be directed to charter schools. This statement of intent provides a clear directive that the WVDE should not short-change charter school students when making rules and regulations related to funding.
The updates also make it clear that charter school students are permitted to participate in sports at traditional public schools if the charter school does not offer that sport. While the law was always intended to allow this, public school districts chose to block students from participation in their sports programs and so the updated law specifically requires local public schools to allow charter students to join (or try out for) their teams if the charter school doesn't offer that sport. The updated law also includes startup grants for charter schools as well as safe schools funding to put charter schools on a more even playing field with traditional public schools in those spaces.