CHARLESTON — The West Virginia charter school board on Wednesday approved allowing two statewide online charters to open next school year.
The West Virginia Professional Charter School Board approved the West Virginia Virtual Academy, run by the publicly traded company Stride Inc., formerly K12 Inc. It will enroll up to 2,500 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Board members also approved the Virtual Preparatory Academy of West Virginia, run by Accel Schools, part of the private international firm Pansophic Learning. It will enroll up to 2,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Ron Packard, founder of K12 Inc., also founded Pansophic. He left K12 Inc. in 2014.
The board didn’t approve the West Virginia Connections Academy, which would have been run by the international education company Pearson. It would have enrolled up to 3,500 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
The two approvals and one rejection were done in a single 3-0 vote. The fourth board member, Brian Helton, was absent. The board had a fifth member who resigned early on.
The board had postponed voting on these charters last week, when Helton also didn’t show. Board members said they rescheduled to this week to allow him to participate.
Earlier this year, Republican lawmakers amended a 2019 charter law, under which no charters had by then been approved. Their changes created this unelected approval board and allowed charters to teach almost solely online.
But the changes specifically limited statewide online charters like these to no more than two. The board, in its official motion on the approvals and rejections, said it “regrets” that cap.
Otherwise, the law allows up to 10 additional brick-and-mortar charters and local online ones to be approved every three years.
Wednesday’s vote finishes the board’s charter approvals for next school year. Last week, board members OK’d all three brick-and-mortar charters that applied to open, save for one that withdrew its application.
Accel also will run two out of the three brick-and-mortar schools: one in Nitro and one somewhere not yet revealed in Jefferson County. The third brick-and-mortar, West Virginia Academy near Morgantown, hasn’t proposed using an “education service provider” company to run its day-to-day operations.
Like last week, the board didn’t discuss the issue Wednesday before voting. Board Chairman Adam Kissel had an approval-and-rejection motion already prepared, and the other two attending board members suggested no edits.
“A career focus is less well-demonstrated by this applicant compared to the other applicants,” the motion said regarding rejecting Connections Academy.
The motion also critiqued Connections Academy for planning to start serving juniors and seniors in its first year, rather than phasing in those grade levels, like the other applicants, and for projecting that 20% of its enrollment would be previously home-schooled students.
The other applicants “do not explicitly rely on this population,” the motion said. It said the Hope Scholarship — the state’s new nonpublic-school voucher program — will provide public funding for many families to choose home-schooling.
Former Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College president Chuck Terrell, who was to be a member of the separate individual board overseeing Connections Academy, missed Wednesday’s meeting.
“It is a disappointment,” Terrell said. “Pearson is a good national model and has other successful virtual schools, but I have to respect the decision of the state in looking at two state (virtual) options that were also available.”
The state board is now required to work with the boards of each charter school to agree to contracts, which should contain more specifics on how the charters must operate.
However, there’s a pending lawsuit seeking to stop these charters from opening without county voters’ approval. But if they do open in the fall, West Virginia will go from having no charter schools to having five.
The Washington, D.C.-based National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said that, as of 2018-19, the last full school year before the coronavirus pandemic, 43 states had charters.
If the 2018-19 numbers hold for other states, West Virginia will be the 44th, and it will have more charters than the two in Alabama and the three in Iowa, and as many as Mississippi and Wyoming.