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Preston BOE gets bad news about charter school enrollment, funding

KINGWOOD — It looks like Preston County Schools is going to lose $272,000 in state aid because of charter school enrollment.

“I think this is huge. None of us knew this was coming,” Superintendent Stephen Wotring told the Preston County Board of Education. “… We have been promised by our legislators that neither the Hope Scholarship nor charter schools were going to affect our budget. … But just to give you the down-and-dirty version of the whole thing: We do have to pay for every child who goes to a charter school.”

According to a May 3 email from the state Department of Education, Preston County is projected to lose 44 students to charter schools in the 2022-23 school year. The charter schools taking Preston students are West Virginia Academy, West Virginia Virtual Academy and Virtual Preparatory Academy. 

Wotring said he reached out to the state to find out which students were leaving so the district could make informed personnel choices, but was told he could not receive that information — charter schools only had to submit numbers and not names.

“So I have no idea who these kids are,” Wotring said,  “We’ve reached out to principals. None of the principals have been told that they have students leaving to go to any of these three schools that are on our chart.”

The state is now saying, per the email, that it will reduce the state aid formula money Preston County gets.

“So over a quarter of a million dollars comes right out of our state aid formula,” Wotring said.

The district will still be paying the same number of teachers despite having less money. However, Wotring noted there is still COVID money left and the excess levy is still in effect.

“I’m just going to use Bruceton as an example, because that’s where I would think would be the closest to go to West Virginia Academy, or West Preston. So let’s say I have two first-graders, two second-graders, three third-graders, that’s not enough to cause me to have to reduce any of our own staff,” Wotring said.

“The other thing that’s very disturbing to me, and we’re not really in this boat in Preston County to a certain extent, but if a county does not receive enough state aid funding to cover the enrollment for charter schools, the county has to cut a check and just pay to charter schools,” Wotring said.

That statement drew gasps from board members.

“When the final version is released, I will share that with you as well,” Wotring said. “But these preliminary numbers don’t look good as far as how much it affects our budget.”

BOE President Jack Keim said he saw the problem coming.

“From the very beginning of these charter schools, you could see they were going to be a real problem. And they were going to cut into public education,” he said.

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