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Adam Kissel

Adam Kissel

Seven applicants are asking West Virginia’s new state-level charter school board to allow them to open, according to the board’s chairman.

Chairman Adam Kissel wrote in an email that three statewide online schools serving grades K-12 and four brick-and-mortar ones serving a narrower range submitted their applications by the Aug. 31 deadline.

The charter board has 90 days from when the applications were filed to rule on them. If the board doesn’t act at all on the applications within that time, the schools will automatically be approved to open as soon as next school year.

Two of the online charters would be run day-to-day by publicly traded companies that are major online education providers in other states: Stride Inc., formerly called K12 Inc., and education juggernaut Pearson, through its Connections Academy subsidiary.

The third online charter would be run daily by ACCEL Schools, part of private international company Pansophic Learning. ACCEL’s other schools are mostly in Ohio. West Virginia law allows up to two of these three proposed statewide online schools to open.

ACCEL also is proposed to run the brick-and-mortar Nitro Preparatory Academy, which would seek students from Kanawha and Putnam counties. It plans to serve 600 students in grades K-8 at full capacity, although it plans to start with just K-6 and fewer students.

ACCEL also would run Eastern Panhandle Preparatory Academy, in Jefferson County. That’s proposed to serve up to 650 students in grades K-12 at full capacity.

There are two more brick-and-mortar charters proposed, neither of which said they are planning to use one of these administrative companies, commonly called “education service providers.” Even with an education service provider, each charter would be overseen by the school’s own unelected governing board and the unelected state charter board itself.

These two other brick-and-mortar charters are The Shepherd Aviation Academy, seeking to draw up to 360 9th- to 12th-grade students from Jefferson and Berkeley counties, and the West Virginia Academy, a K-12 school that would be in the Cheat Lake community near Morgantown.

These brick-and-mortar charter schools are proposed to draw students from the some of the most populous counties in the state.

The Shepherd Aviation Academy’s application says, “the curriculum will be designed for students who have a passion for aviation and/or an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.”

“The diverse student population will have inside access to the largest airport in West Virginia, hosting the largest [A]ir [G]uard base in the state,” the application says. “Students will see firsthand how the science of aviation works. They will have direct access to aircraft and will be able to talk to professionals throughout the aviation industry.”

Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, appointed the state charter board’s members, who await confirmation or rejection by the state Senate.

The GOP-dominated Legislature created the board this year through a law that also:

  • Specifically legalized fully online charter schools
  • Allowed for up to two statewide virtual charter schools that could each enroll up to 5% of statewide public school enrollment; and
  • Above those two statewide online-only schools, allowed 10 more charters to open every three years.

Republicans initially legalized charters in West Virginia through a 2019 law, but that legislation generally allowed elected county boards of education to reject charters that applied to open in their counties. Charters and county school systems are funded largely based on enrollment, so shifts of students from districts to charters and vice versa cause shifts in funding.

This year’s law still allows charters to apply to county school boards to open, but the executive directors of the West Virginia School Board Association and the West Virginia Association of School Administrators said they hadn’t heard of any applications that were sent to counties.

The new state-level charter board can approve a charter to open in a county even if the local school board opposes it. The West Virginia Academy, for instance, was rejected last year by the Monongalia and Preston county school boards and is now applying to the state charter board.

It seeks to serve up to 1,380 students, according to Kissel, the state charter board chairman.

Kissel provided only parts of the proposed schools’ applications this week. He said he is reviewing the applications for possibly proprietary or personal information before releasing more of the documents.

Ryan Quinn covers education. He can be reached at 304-348-1254 or Follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.

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