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Can charter schools make the grade here?

MORGANTOWN — The West Virginia Board of Education just charted the course of all future charter schools in the Mountain State.

Board members in Charleston earlier on Wednesday approved changes to Policy 3300, which allows the creation of 10 new charters every three years – including online schools.

More importantly, the policy also contains an in-house component to do the heavy lifting during the ground-level formation of any charter here.

Which also means that component, the West Virginia Professional Charter School Board, will now bypass any authority a county board of education would have in that process.

“Authority,” was the watch-word in the recent give-and-take between the Monongalia County Board of Education and the governing board of West Virginia Academy.

The academy, which would have been the state’s first charter school, had planned on operating in the Morgantown area.

Mon’s BOE, however, denied the academy’s 371-page application, saying it fell short in seven of 10 state-mandated benchmarks for its operation.

The Preston County school board said the same, since the academy also planned to recruit students from the Bruceton area, close to Mon’s border.

Meanwhile, the academy appealed to the state Supreme Court, crying conflict of interest.

A fair review, its governing board charged, would be out of the question since every public student enrolled would also be taking dollars from the local district.

Even though deadlines for the review process were in dispute, justices still sided with the local boards last month – ruling that the academy should have addressed the noted deficiencies, either way.

That’s key, said Andrew Saultz, an Oregon professor and researcher who studies charter schools nationwide.

Whether a charter is operating in West Virginia or Washington, D.C., he told The Dominion Post previously, a qualifying standard still has to be there.

Communities, he said, would be well-advised to watch the amount of money a group planning such a school puts into its advertising and marketing budgets for recruiting.

Beware of “cream-skimming,” he said, which is the practice of plucking the best and brightest (read, the students from the more affluent families) to the school.

Saultz recounted the tale of a charter school in Arizona that didn’t conduct background checks for any of the teachers it hired – “You can imagine what happened,” he said.

Stay away from online charters altogether, he said: The largest one in Ohio went dark three years ago, causing 12,000 students to be set adrift.

Be it a charter or a public institution, a school is still a school, said Saultz, who has been elected to his local board of education.

“I personally don’t buy into charters as being a great thing or a terrible thing,” he said, “but you do need to have measurements and standards in place. It’s still about accountability.”

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