Archives for category: West Virginia

Denis Smith was a teacher and an administrator in West Virginia. He moved to Ohio where he worked in the State Education Department. His last position before retiring was in the office of charter schools (misleadingly called “community schools” in Ohio, even when they operate for profit).

He writes here in the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette-Mail, the state’s largest newspaper.

The link works but doesn’t permit me to copy any print.

Here’s the basic story. The Republican legislature passed a charter law, and the Republican Governor (billionaire Jim Justice) signed it, despite promising the state’s teachers he would veto it.

He appointed cronies to the state’s new West Virginia Charter School Board. The board picked five new charter operators. One of the charter operators is Ron Packard, CEO of Accel, former CEO of K12 Inc., which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Accel has charter operations in many states. Its teachers are paid less than the national average but its CEO collected $19 million in a four-year period. Its bottom line is profit, not education or community, writes Smith.

Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey of Kanawha County issued an injunction barring the schools from opening because they violate state constitution. She ruled that the creation of a new school district within an existing school district is unconstitutional, unless a majority of voters in the existing district approve in an election.

Smith writes that the West Virginia law is “a flagrant attempt” to use public funds for private profit. He writes that public schools are democratic institutions owned by the community and operated by elected school boards. The initiation of charter schools is a blatant effort to destroy the public schools, a radical and wasteful decision that was never put to voters.

After the inspiring teachers’ strike in 2019, which closed every public school in the state, the billionaire Governor Jim Justice of West Virginia promised to veto any charter school legislation. He lied. The legislation passed, and the Governor signed it.

The state established a state charter board, which proceeded to award seven charters, mostly to a for-profit charter corporation that manages low-performing charters in Ohio.

But a county judge stopped the clock by issuing an injunction to halt the new charter schools.

A Kanawha County judge has temporarily blocked five public charter schools from opening in West Virginia.

Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey granted a preliminary injunction Monday sought by parents and education union members.

They filed a lawsuit against Gov. Jim Justice and leaders of the state Senate and House.

In the suit, the plaintiffs claim residents should be able to weigh in on any charter school established in their county.

They are challenging the authority of the Professional Charter Schools Board, a group that has its members appointed by the governor.

Last month, the board approved charter schools in Morgantown, Nitro and in Jefferson County, along with two online charter schools.

The judge outlined her logic in granting the temporary injunction.

“The plain language of Article 10, Section 12 of our state constitution provides that no independent school district or organization shall hereafter be created except with the consent of the school district or districts, out of which the same is created, expressed by a majority of the voters voting on the question,” Bailey said.

One of the arguments in the lawsuit was that the transfer of the student – and the tax money that goes with that student – is the same thing as creating an independent school district, and there is a specific prohibition against that in the state constitution – unless there is a public vote.

The two parents bringing suit are members of the American Federation of Teachers union.

“It is unconstitutional to create a new school system within our current school system and that’s what this bill seems to do,” AFT-WV President Fred Albert said.

After some county school boards voted no to approving a charter school in their areas, lawmakers created the Professional Charter Schools Board, which could OK charter schools without a county school board’s approval.

State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said the injunction is wrong because acts of the Legislature are presumed to be constitutional and because the parents should have sued the charter school board not the governor and legislators. He said he will seek relief from the state Supreme Court.

Denis Smith writes here about the past, present, and hoped-for future of West Virginia. He urges West Virginians to throw out the leaders who undermine their health, safety, and well-being. He reminds us and them of the state’s past progressive leaders. A lifelong educator, Smith retired as an official in the Ohio State Department of Education, where he oversaw charter schools.

He writes:

In her earlier post, West Virginia: The Battle of Blair Mountain, Diane Ravitch not only reminded us about the emergence of the labor movement but also shed light on how, a century later, the coal industry, though greatly diminished in activity from earlier times, still maintains a grip on the state through the misfeasance of its political leadership in the governor’s office and by its representatives in the Congress.

The story goes back to 1921, when 10,000 coal miners, in reaction to the murder of a union-friendly local sheriff, joined together to check the power of coal companies and the low wages, unsafe working conditions, and horrific housing they provided in company towns situated near the mines operated by these representatives of corporate America.

Inasmuch as I completed almost all of my graduate work in West Virginia and lived there for nearly 20 years, I was familiar with the Blair Mountain story and the sad history of exploitation of the land and workers by extractive industries like coal companies. Unfortunately, I thought that this tale of labor history was widely known but learned otherwise about eight years ago.

At that time, I was asked to teach a number of American history courses for Ohio public school teachers so they could meet the then-new content area Highly Qualified Teacher requirements. A review of the draft course syllabus showed, however, that additional content was needed to bolster the students’ knowledge of the Progressive Era and the emerging American labor movement. In particular, there was no treatment of the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire as well as the Battle of Blair Mountain, which remains the largest labor uprising in American history.

I soon learned that none of the students in my class in suburban Columbus, Ohio had any knowledge of either event, and the Blair Mountain post, with its spotlight on West Virginia, sheds light on that state’s history of exploitation by energy companies and the lack of political leadership today to ensure the health, safety,and welfare of its citizens based on that past history.

But in light of the state’s challenges in the past, and with the neglect of the health, safety, and welfare shown by its top political leaders, are West Virginia residents also unknowing of its past history? Or have they been bamboozled by their politicians in not realizing what is at stake in the current political climate?

That lack of leadership to ensure the health and welfare of the populace is shown in the misfeasance and conflicts-of-interest manifested by West Virginia’s Governor Jim Justice and its senior U.S. Senator, Joe Manchin, who also served as the state’s governor before his election to Congress.

As the owner of several coal companies, Justice has a history of exploiting not only the land but of the communities affected. Moreover, like his friend Donald Trump, he also has a history of tax avoidance. In 2019, for example, Justice companies paid $1.2 million in back taxes owed to Knott, Pike, Harlan and Magoffin counties in Kentucky, with more delinquent taxes to be paid at a later date. A review of his tax delinquency showed that he had additional obligations to be paid in Virginia and West Virginia, along with past due mine safety fines.

Yes, mine safety fines owed by companies owned by the governor of the state where 10,000 miners revolted against unsafe working conditions exactly a century ago. But that was then, right? Or are we back to the future and the past simultaneously?

Then we have the case of Senator Joe Manchin, a predecessor of Jim Justice in the West Virginia governor’s office. The current Build Back Better legislation would provide funds to deal with climate change, expand Medicare, and assist families with lower costs for child care and elder care. Yet Manchin, who has interests in the energy industry and a daughter who formerly was the CEO of Mylan, a pharmaceutical company, seems to have a conflict-of-interest when it comes to supporting lower prescription drug costs and dealing with the environment.

When many communities lack safe drinking water caused by years of mining and health consequences caused by such mineral extraction activity in West Virginia, wouldn’t you think that the political leadership on both sides of the aisle would support legislation that would protect the health, safety, and welfare of residents?

If you have financial interests in a top industry, as Manchin and Justice do, that’s asking far too much.

On Sunday, Manchin announced, appropriately enough, on Fox News that he does not support the Build Back Better Act. This is what Bernie Sanders had to say about his colleague, Joe Manchin:

“Well, I think he’s going to have a lot of explaining to do to the people of West Virginia, to tell him why he doesn’t have the guts to take on the drug companies to lower the cost of prescription drugs,” he said. “West Virginia is one of the poorest states in this country. You got elderly people and disabled people who would like to stay at home. He’s going to have to tell the people of West Virginia why he doesn’t want to expand Medicare to cover dental, hearing, and eyeglasses.”

When it comes to drug companies and Manchin’s lack of courage in dealing with them, Bernie Sanders is certainly knowledgeable about some family history. And then some. He went on to add this observation:

“If he doesn’t have the courage to do the right thing for the working families of West Virginia and America, let him vote no in front of the whole world.”

Manchin used the canard of not wanting to increase the national debt as one of his arguments in opposing Build Back Better. But he does not acknowledge that West Virginia greatly benefits from all types of federal spending. A study several years ago demonstrated that a number of red states, including West Virginia, receive much more in federal dollars than they receive from the treasury. As examples, West Virginia receives $2.07, Kentucky $1.90, and South Carolina $1.71 for every dollar sent to Washington.

In light of his concern about the national debt, would Manchin favor West Virginia being treated on a par with states like Massachusetts and New York, which receive far less than a dollar back from the treasury for every dollar sent to Washington?

So as I reflect a bit more about the Mine Wars and the Battle of Blair Mountain, I am puzzled by the descendants of these mine workers offering such enthusiastic support to the likes of Governor Jim Justice and Senator Joe Manchin, who obstruct legislation that would improve the health, safety, nutrition, and educational opportunities for West Virginia, one of the poorest states in the union.

There are two great West Virginia Senators who must be turning in their graves as they view the likes of the state’s present political leadership. The first, Jennings Randolph, entered the U.S. Senate in 1933 at the start of FDR’s New Deal and was a champion of Social Security, Medicare, voting rights and the abolition of the Poll Tax. Then there was Robert Byrd, who served with Randolph as the long-time Senate leader who distinguished himself as a check on many of Ronald Reagan’s policies, opposed the Iraq War, and in his last days championed the Affordable Care Act from a wheelchair on the Senate floor.

In a Senate speech on February 12, 2003 that attacked the march toward war with Iraq, Byrd said that “We are truly “sleepwalking through history.” In my heart of hearts I pray that this great nation and its good and trusting citizens are not in for a rudest of awakenings.”

In the same vein, it’s past time for the people of West Virginia to emerge from their sleepwalking and support leaders, unlike Manchin and Justice, who will put the interests of the people first and not those of the pharmaceutical industry and energy interests.

One more thing. Dear West Virginians, the next time you vote, remember your ancestors who fought for justice (small j, of course) and basic human rights at Blair Mountain. It’s now the 21st century. Jennings Randolph and Robert Byrd might be pleased with your awakening.

Thanks to G.F. Brandenburg, who posted this very important report about The Battle of Blair Mountain, a largely forgotten milestone in the history of unionism.

Brandenburg opens his post by reminding us that the rich and powerful usually control history and write the narrative.

He adds this dramatic story of The Battle of Blair Mountain, which is unknown to most people and barely remembered in the state where it happpened. The famous but almost-forgotten battle pitted underpaid, impoverished miners against the coal industry’s hired and well-armed detectives and union-busters. After several days of fighting, federal troops were sent in to stop the combat.

The story was written by Irina Zhorov and appeared on PBS WHYY.

The site of the conflict is marked by an inconspicuous plaque. The land is inaccessible because its owned by a coal company.

Here is the lead-up to the Battle of Blair Mountain:

In early 20th-century Appalachia, miners in the southern West Virginia coal fields lived in company towns. They were dependent on their bosses for every necessity, including their homes and food. Pay was low. Living and working conditions were deplorable.

The United Mine Workers union attempted to organize miners in the region, but the coal companies fought back, often violently. In a series of clashes now called the Mine Wars, both union and company supporters were killed.

By 1921, tensions were coming to a head. Miners in Mingo County, south of Blair, had joined the union. In retaliation, the company had evicted them from their homes. The miners had been rounded up and were being kept in pens. State police had cut off food supplies, so families were starving.

Then private detectives who worked for the coal companies brazenly murdered a union sympathizer named Sid Hatfield, a hero to the miners. It was broad daylight, and Hatfield’s wife was by his side. Tensions boiled over.

One week after the murder, Frank Keeney, the leader of West Virginia’s United Mine Workers chapter — and Chuck Keeney’s great-grandfather — gave a series of speeches to rally miners in the coal fields.

Miners—10,000-15,000 of them—marched 50 miles to Blair Mountain to protest and fight.

Clearly, there are many people in West Virginia today whose parents or grandparents took up arms against the tyrannous coal companies. They know the history because it’s personal.

Yet this legacy of labor militancy does not seem to have any role in today’s politics. West Virginia is a red state with a Republican-controlled legislature. The Governor, Jim Justice, was a Republican who became a Democrat for his election in 2016. Seven months after his election, he reverted back to being a Republican, at a political rally with Trump by his side. Governor Justice is a billionaire who controls many businesses, mostly in agriculture and coal mining.

Why do West Virginians keep electing and re-electing Republicans who are hostile to the interests of poor and working-class people?

West Virginia recently passed a charter school law, breaking its promise to the state’s teachers. A new board was created to authorize charters. That board just approved two for-profit online charter schools. One is run by K12 Inc., which changed its name to Stride. The other will be run by Ron Packard’s Accel, which operates low-performing charters in Ohio. Packard was the first CEO of K12 Inc., where he was paid $5 million a year.

Online charters are known for low academic performance, low graduation rates, and high attrition. A study by CREDO found that students in online charter schools learn almost nothing.

While findings vary for each student, the results in CREDO’s report show that the majority of online charter students had far weaker academic growth in both math and reading compared to their traditional public school peers. To conceptualize this shortfall, it would equate to a student losing 72 days of learning in reading and 180 days of learning in math, based on a 180-day school year. This pattern of weaker growth remained consistent across racial-ethnic subpopulations and students in poverty.

The following post by Bill Phillis of the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy details the outsized role that Ron Packard’s for-profit charter chain will have in starting charter schools in West Virginia. Packard was one of the founders of the low-performing but highly profitable K12 Inc. virtual charter chain (where he was paid $5 million a year). He left to start another charter chain, called Pansophic, of which Accel is a part. His background is not in education, although his online bio describes him(self) as an “educator and entrepreneur.” In fact, his work experience prior to K12 Inc. was at Goldman Sachs and McKinsey. Learn more about Ron Packard at Sourcewatch, which keeps tabs on rightwingers and privatizers (www.sourcewatch.org). The selection of charter chains which have demonstrated poor academic performance in other states shows that the decisions in West Virginia are driven by politics, not concern for students or their education.

Bill Phillis posted this notice:

Ron Packard’s Accel For-Profit Charter School Operation May Run Half of West Virginia’s First Charter Schools
The Ohio D-ranked Accel charter school operator is in line to run half of West Virginia’s first charter schools. Ron Packard, former CEO of the publicly traded K12 company, left K12 Inc. to start Pansophic Learning, of which Accel is a part. Accel has a huge presence in Ohio, with less than a stellar record of performance.

It is of at least passing interest that Packard’s former employer (K12 Inc.) is in line to run the West Virginia charter school Virtual Academy.


One company could run half of WV’s first charter schools. Ohio doesn’t rank it highly.

By Ryan Quinn ryan.quinn@hdmediallc.comNov 4, 2021

CHARLES TOWN — Accel Schools says it serves schools in seven states. West Virginia could be the eighth.
The fast-expanding charter school management company’s name is on half the six applications to open charters here. Lawmakers tout charters as a way to improve Mountain State education.

In neighboring Ohio, 17 of 30 Accel schools were graded D’s and five others were graded F’s in 2018-19 by the state Department of Education. Accel says it serves more than 50 schools.

Ron Packard, founder of K12 Inc., an online charter school business traded on the New York Stock Exchange, left that company in 2014 and started Pansophic Learning. Accel is part of that private, international firm. 

Since 2014, Accel has virtually expanded to the Pacific, with online charters in California and Washington state. It has become the largest school management company in Ohio, home to most of the brick-and-mortar charters Accel runs.

It has yet to go farther east. West Virginia has put out an invitation.

In this year’s regular legislative session, Republicans fast-tracked a law allowing charters to expand faster, teach almost solely online and apply for approval from a new, unelected West Virginia Professional Charter School Board.

A month after Gov. Jim Justice signed the law, Accel hired two lobbyists, according to the state Ethics Commission. One is Larry Puccio, who represents prominent businesses, including the governor’s Greenbrier resort.

Now Accel is trying to reach the tip of the Eastern Panhandle with a brick-and-mortar, 650-student maximum charter in Jefferson County. On Oct. 18, Accel’s Chad Carr spoke to a mostly receptive audience in Charles Town, the county seat.

A second Accel brick-and-mortar charter, Nitro Preparatory Academy, would be located at the edge of the state’s most populous county and enroll up to 600 students.

Accel’s Virtual Preparatory Academy would enable it to reach all of West Virginia. Or, at least, the parts in the hills and hollows that can get online. The school would provide laptops, and max out at 2,000 students.

The Professional Charter School Board could approve all three Accel schools Wednesday during an online meeting scheduled to start at 8 a.m.

The Nitro, Eastern Panhandle and Virtual Preparatory academies are overseen by separate boards, save for one shared member. The Nitro and Eastern Panhandle applications are almost identical.

The Ohio Department of Education rated Accel a “D” operator in 2018-19, the last school year before the pandemic. Ohio hasn’t graded operators or schools since.

The agency graded a half-dozen Accel schools as C’s, two as B’s and none as A’s. More than two-thirds of Accel’s schools in the Buckeye State received the lowest two letter grades. Rapidly expanding Accel’s recent takeover of some schools might have been a factor in the grades, an official said.

“With regards to the Ohio academic records,” Accel spokeswoman Courtney Harritt wrote in an email, “it is a complex analysis because Accel has a specialty in turning schools around academically and financially. The majority of the schools we manage are going through the academic turnaround process.”

The Ohio letter grades are composed of multiple measures, including students’ overall achievement on state tests and their rate of improvement.

Acceleration

Carr said he was swept up in the company’s expansion when Accel took over the charter chain for which he worked.

“Accel is made up of different, uh, organizations that have tried to do charter schools and not done ’em very well,” Carr told the Charles Town crowd. He said his own school excelled academically, but not financially.

“In Ohio, we run schools on a third of what the traditional public schools run ‘ern on,” Carr said of Accel.

Education service provider companies like Accel can’t turn a profit from per-student state funding if they don’t keep down expenses.

The Nitro and Eastern Panhandle Preparatory academies set a goal of maintaining “a grade of C or higher on the West Virginia School Report Card.”

West Virginia ditched its letter-grade system for schools in 2017. Nitro and Eastern Panhandle Preparatory set academic goals, but those don’t take into account scores on state standardized tests by which public schools are judged.

State law gives charter applicants the chance to correct “identified deficiencies” in applications before the charter board decides.

Answering questions now is “premature,” Harritt wrote in an email “because we haven’t yet received application feedback from the charter board. We are still working through the iterative process.”

The Virtual Preparatory Academy application includes a goal to meet or exceed the statewide average for student proficiency in math, English language arts and science.

“Each year, the school will strive for a 2% improvement from the prior year,” the application says.

The only non-Accel brick-and-mortar charter proposed in this state, West Virginia Academy near Morgantown, isn’t planning to use a management company like Accel to run its daily operations.

But the boards of the other two incipient charters are planning to use service providers. The online West Virginia Connections Academy plans to use Pearson, the international education company that also sells textbooks to public schools.

West Virginia Virtual Academy plans to use Stride Inc., the new name for K12 Inc.

Lawmakers allowed up to 10 charters to open, but only two statewide virtual charters. So Accel’s Virtual Preparatory Academy might not open if the Charter School Board instead approves other schools’ applications.

This means Packard’s old company is competing with his new one, which includes five other executive leaders originally from K12 Inc.

At the Charles Town public forum, Carr explained Accel’s approach, telling the more than 30 people there the strategy includes tests assessing only the past two weeks of learning.

“It’s small, six questions, but it has to cover exactly what you just taught,” said Carr, who wore boots and Dallas Cowboys cuff links with his suit.

“You give it to the students. If they know it and they do well on it, move on. But if they don’t know it, you need to go back and reteach it,” Carr said of teachers. “And that’s when somebody like me steps in and says, ‘Hey, here’s a couple of ways that you need to fix this.’ And it works.”

Joanne Curran, an attendee, was open to the pitch.

“Why wouldn’t everybody want to go?” she asked. “And — I literally can’t understand a downside, so it’s a serious question.”

“I don’t know,” Carr said. “It’s, it’s really hard, it’s really hard to answer.”

Ryan Quinn covers education. He can be reached at 304-348-1254 or ryan.quinn@hdmediallc.com. Ryan QuinnEducation Reporter

https://www.wygazettemail.com/news/education/one-company-could-run-half-of-wys-first-charter-schools-ohio-doesnt-rank-it-highly/article_7010ca95-2a1b-55b8-b16e-81af3c757c42.html

The profiteers are lining their pockets with public funds that should be used in the classrooms.

By WSAZ News StaffPublished: Nov. 10, 2021 at 8:32 AM EST|Updated: 6 hours ago

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) – The West Virginia Professional Charter School Board approved West Virginia’s first charter schools during a virtual meeting Wednesday morning.

The Board met to consider seven applications from companies looking to open new virtual and in-person education options.

Three in-person schools were approved Wednesday morning: West Virginia Academy, Eastern Panhandle Academy and Nitro Preparatory Academy.

Two of those learning proposals, the Eastern Panhandle Academy and Nitro Preparatory Academy, were submitted by the company ACCEL Schools.

ACCEL wants to open the first in-person charter school in our region.

The Nitro Prep Academy, which would be located in the former Nitro High School building, hopes to attract up to 600 students in kindergarten through eighth grade from Kanawha and Putnam counties, according to its application. That would including pulling students from Nitro Elementary School, which will share a parking lot with the new charter school, and Rock Branch Elementary School, which is one of West Virginia’s three National Blue Ribbon Schools and is located less than a 10-minute drive from the proposed charter school.

Nitro Prep said in its application to the state, “there is a need in this area for a high-quality charter school because neither county is excelling academically.” The application goes on to state it hopes to create an individualized learning environment as “an alternative to traditional public schools that have been ineffective in meeting certain family and student learning needs, or cost-prohibitive private schools.”

In addition to the in-person charter school, ACCEL wants to add a statewide virtual option. The West Virginia Professional Charter School Board is set to consider applications for virtual learning next week.

This is a developing story.

West Virginia’s first charter schools gain approval by board members (wsaz.com)

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https://vouchershurtohio.com/8-lies-about-private-school-vouchers/

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A regular commenter on the blog, known as Chiara, reports the composition of West Virginia’s new board for authorizing charter schools. The legislature endorsed new charter schools in a state that has never had them. Several of them will be for-profits. Two will be virtual charters. There are three other entities that can authorize the privately run schools that are publicly funded.

Chiara wrote:

Here’s the oversight of West Virginia’s new charter sector: “Appointees are: former Greater Beckley Christian School head boys basketball coach Brian Helton; John Waltz, the vice president for enrollment management at West Virginia Wesleyan College Upshur County; Dewayne Duncan, a real estate developer in Kanawha County and former Republican candidate for Kanawha County Commission; Karen Bailey-Chapman, owner of public relations firm KB Advocacy in Jefferson County and a board member of the libertarian Cardinal Institute for West Virginia Policy; and Adam Kissel, a senior fellow at the Cardinal Institute. Kissel, a former deputy assistant secretary for higher education programs at the U.S. Department of Education for 16 months under former president Donald Trump, said he was excited to get to work on the new board.” Not a single person from a public school, nor anyone who supports public schools. Rigorously screened – only true believer ideological ed reformers are hired. These are the governance systems national ed reformers design and lobby for, so this must be how they envision the privatized systems they’re creating. Packed with fellow ed reform echo chambers, no dissent or different views permitted, and deliberate exclusion of anyone who comes out of a public school.

Denis Smith went to graduate school in West Virginia and served as an elementary and middle school principal, director of curriculum, and director of federal programs in the suburban school system adjacent to the state capital. He subsequently moved to Ohio, where he was in charge of overseeing the state’s burgeoning and scandal-ridden charter sector. He wrote a warning to West Virginia, published in the state’s major newspaper, about its new charter law and what is likely to happen. It won’t be pretty.

He said that charters will not be accountable. They will divert money from the state’s public schools, while doing whatever it takes (campaign contributions?) to avoid academic and financial accountability.

He pointed out that the people of West Virginia will lose local control of their schools, as national charter chains move in.

Consider the irony that the leader of the founding coalition of the proposed West Virginia Academy is a professor of accounting. But then we should also know that, when it comes to all things related to charter school accounting and accountability, nothing adds up. Add to that the fact that these schools are free from many sections of state law, including school boards that are directly elected by the public. For example, in Ohio, where I live, charter schools are exempt from 140 sections of the state code.

Keep in mind that charter boards are hand-picked, selected by the companies that manage the school, where school governance by design is not accountable to the voters…

As a former resident of West Virginia and a school administrator in West Virginia and Ohio, it is my hope that the citizens of the Mountain State might learn from the mistakes of Ohio, which bears the distinction of having a refuse pile containing the wreckage of nearly 300 closed charter schools, some of which received funding but never opened, emitting a rancid, overpowering odor, a byproduct of bad public policy.

And speaking about waste, Ohio has spent more than $4 billion on the charter school experiment so far, an exercise that is hell-bent on using public funds for private purposes while skirting transparency and accountability requirements.

Smith asks the people of the state:

Are West Virginians, exploited for generations by energy companies, in favor of selling off their public schools?

State Senator Mike Romano of West Virginia wrote an article about the hoax of charter schools, which will cost the state’s public schools hundreds of millions of dollars without improving education.

He wrote:

In the shadows of Covid, bills have passed during the 2021 Legislative session that will move West Virginia backwards. From the weakening or elimination of state licensing for electricians, plumbers, crane operators, elevator technicians, among others, to the weakening of drinking water standards, to creating a new layer of government with an Intermediate Court that no one wants (except insurance companies), which will cost tens of millions of tax dollars every year.

As bad as those bills are, no bill has the potential to damage our collective future or waste more of our tax dollars than charter schools. The obsession of the Republican Majority with charter schools and private school vouchers could result in the loss of nearly one-half of our public school funding.

Charter schools have mixed results around the country, at best. Ohio lost $4 billion on charters and rural states have had almost no success. In 2019, county boards of education were permitted to approve applications for and oversee charter schools preserving local control of education. The bill passed this Session eliminates local oversight by creating a new board, appointed by the governor, to approve charter schools regardless of the will of the citizens. Local control and oversight of public education have ended.

In-person charter schools are limited to 10 percent of each county’s public school population, but, as bad as that could be for public schools, the bill also authorizes two statewide virtual charter schools for up to another 10 percent of the statewide public school population. Those numbers should be alarming. If in-person and virtual charter schools take just half of the permitted public school students (10 percent), more than $200 million will be taken from public school budgets every year with little accountability. Although the charter school itself may be not-for-profit, in a clever ruse, for-profit Education Service Providers or ESPs can be hired to run it with our tax dollars.

Most important, virtual charters will receive the same amount of money (around $7,400 per student) as in-person charters, yet virtual classes are conducted over the internet without the need for school buildings, desks, cafeterias, janitors, liability insurance and all other costs of a brick and mortar school. Virtual charters won’t even hire the same number of teachers. In Florida, for example, each virtual charter teacher instructed over 250 students. Profits will be the priority and staggering. Someone’s pocket is getting lined with tax dollars and no one cared.

Amazingly, the Republican Majority did not know that more than $200 million in public school tax dollars were being shifted to private, for-profit ESPs if charters take just one-half of the students permitted under the bill. According to the State Board of Education, more than 6,000 public school teachers and service personnel would lose their jobs as a result. If the teacher/student ratio in virtual charters is like Florida, 50 teachers will replace over 3,000 public school educators and staff, most of whom will leave the state. Add the $130 million being taken from the public school system for the Republicans’ private school voucher program, and the public school system could evaporate.

As West Virginia ventures into this great unknown, the negatives have not even been acknowledged let alone considered. For example the effects on high school sports of the loss of 20 percent of the public school population would be devastating. Undoubtedly, student-athletes will go to charter or private schools and not play for their local teams. Coaches will lose their jobs or be required to take on additional responsibilities to keep their jobs. Every dollar that goes to a charter school student is eliminated from our public schools, which will reduce funds for facilities, uniforms, medical care, and other sports-related needs. The loss will be felt by every school.

While the legacy of the Republican majority has been one of voting contrary to facts, their obsession with charter schools in our state has led to a grand deception. They have underfunded public education for years. They now claim it’s broken and, in a move to defend it, preach school choice. The smart course, given the majority’s obsession for charter schools and vouchers, would be a slow march with common sense limits on in-person charter schools and, more important, on the number of students allowed to attend virtual charters. Unfortunately, those limits were eliminated under pressure from Senate Republican leadership.

Public schools are the backbone of our nation, providing a future for our children, but the Majority’s plan will make public schools a place for those not lucky enough – or rich enough – to escape. It will be a modern form of segregation, and we all will pay the price when undereducated students become unproductive adults.

Republicans in West Virginia passed a dramatic voucher bill that allows people to spend public education funds on almost anything. Governor Jim Justice, a billionaire, signed the bill into law.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Saturday signed into law the bill that school-choice advocates say will implement the nation’s broadest nonpublic school vouchers program.

Programs in other states are limited to low-income, special-needs or other subsets of students, or have caps on the number of recipients in general. But West Virginia’s program will be open to all K-12 students, including by offering public money to families who already don’t use the public school system.

Effective beginning in the 2022-23 school year, families who withdraw their children from public schools can receive a currently estimated $4,600 per-student, per-year for private- and home-schooling expenses. Families also may receive the money for newly school-aged children whom they never want to go to public schools.

Republican supermajorities passed this legislation (House Bill 2013) without a single Democrat vote.

Democrats raised concern about its effect on public schools, which have been losing students annually since 2012, dropping from about 282,300 children that year to 261,600 in fall 2019 and, after the coronavirus pandemic hit, 252,400 in fall 2020.

State funding for public schools is largely based on enrollment, and children leaving them take that money with them to home- and private-schooling in the form of these vouchers.

The West Virginia Department of Education’s operations officer has said she expects public schools to retain most of their federal funds, plus any local excess levy property tax revenue, regardless. Some counties don’t have school excess levies.

Parents could use these vouchers for a nearly unlimited list of educational expenses, including online education programs, tutoring, books and private schooling, whether religious or secular. The vast majority of West Virginia private schools are Christian, but the bill doesn’t prohibit using the money for out-of-state boarding schools or other private, out-of-state education providers.

The legislation (House Bill 2013) has a trigger that will automatically be pulled if participation in the program isn’t above 5% of the statewide public school enrollment within the program’s first two years. If that’s the case, then, starting July 1, 2026, parents of all current nonpublic school children will be able to get the vouchers.

But whether that is triggered or not, the fact that the program offers the vouchers to parents of rising kindergarteners so they can avoid public schools in the first place means it eventually will be open to all who intended to avoid public schools all along.

Estimates from two state agencies projected that — aside from the roughly $22 million to $24 million in annual funding the program will shift from public schools to fund vouchers for students who are anticipated to leave public schools — the program’s biggest financial effect will be about $103 million annually in new state funding that will be required to subsidize those who weren’t going to public schools anyway.

There are an estimated 22,300 private- and home-school students in West Virginia.

Comparable private-/home-school voucher programs in other states, dubbed “education savings accounts” (ESAs) despite them generally being funded by the state instead of a family’s own investments, are far more limited than West Virginia’s program.

Read the rest of the story. Voucher zealots are thrilled.
West Virginia is hurtling rapidly backward into the nineteenth century.