Six months after we published 35 ideas that West Virginia should adopt in 2019, and then 35 more, it is time for a status report. Are we making progress? Or are we abject failures in innovation?
I am delighted to affirm that No. 5 is about to become a reality, if Gov. Jim Justice signs a piece of paper in the next few days.
No. 5 on our list called for the authorization of three public charter schools, one each in Charleston, Clarksburg and Martinsburg. Despite what you might have heard from its opponents, a charter school is not the fullfilment of a diabolical plot against our democratic republic. Rather, a charter school is a public school that is run independently, free to choose its own curriculum, staff, calendar and budget.
Monday evening, the West Virginia Senate passed House Bill 206 to enact a number of public education reforms, including allowing three public charter schools to open anywhere in the state.
This is a major win against the dogmatic teacher unions that oppose charter schools with unceasing fury. The West Virginia Education Association and the West Virginia Federation of Teachers have fought, tooth and nail, the reformist Republican majorities in the Legislature, and, it is sorrowful to predict, will continue to do so.
But the GOP leaders, to their credit, did not relent.
If Gov. Justice signs the legislation, HB 206 also would give teachers another 5 percent pay raise following last year’s 5 percent rise. HB 206 would permit students to attend schools in counties they don’t live in without having their home county’s approval. The legislation allows county school boards the freedom to pay teachers more or differently than the mandated one-size-fits-all compensation schedule based on subject matter and geography.
Whether any public charter school actually opens is altogether a different matter. The teacher unions, together with their allies on the state and county school boards and in the superintendents’ offices, will try to stop even one from opening. They will march on the county school boards which, under the new law, would have the power to refuse a new charter.
HB 206 also largely accomplished No. 12 on the list: Expanding on the success of the intense Mountaineer ChalleNGe Academy, located in Preston County. The legislation would increase the capacity of the existing school, a residential program for struggling high-schoolers who rise above difficult lives to earn their diplomas in only 22 weeks.
It is widely acknowledged that the academy’s sponsor, the West Virginia National Guard, succeeds because it runs the school independently, choosing its own curriculum, staff, calendar and budget, and is fueled on discipline, rigor and high expectations.
Sounds awfully like a charter school, doesn’t it? How awful. Or, rather, how awesome.
No. 12 also called for the creation of a second academy, for Southern West Virginia. No. 12 had suggested Bluefield State College for the second site. HB 206 would create and fund a second ChalleNGe academy with consensus that the second site will be in Montgomery, at the former West Virginia Tech campus.
As Gov. Justice might say, “Goodness for everyone.”
On to No. 47 on the list, a law passed during the general session of the West Virginia Legislature that gives more freedom to property owners. In January, No. 47 called for forbidding “West Virginia counties and cities from restricting Airbnb.com and other itinerant lodging booking services.”
The statute, passed in March, took effect on June 7: “A municipality may not prohibit or effectively limit the rental of a property, in whole or in part, or regulate the duration, frequency or location of such rental, in whole or in part.”
Hooray! This law will help develop hospitality and lodging establishments for tourists and travelers in West Virginia. Airbnb.com and VRBO.com accommodations can grow because owners now do not have to worry about cities’ trying to regulate them out of existence.
I have decided to take No. 4 into my own hands. No. 4 called for converting a few Charleston streets from one-way to two-way. Of particular interest are Virginia and Randolph Streets along eight city blocks on the West Side between Pennsylvania and Delaware Avenues from Interstate 64 and Five Corners. All lanes of Virginia Street run west to east, while parallel Randolph Street runs east to west.
Converting these one-way streets to two-way would slow traffic and make those streets safer. Changing traffic flow also would enhance the economic value of the mostly commercial properties fronting Virginia and Randolph Streets, because customers would gain more access to them.
Half-a-dozen property owners I polled on the topic are all for the change. I have drafted a bill to introduce to the Charleston City Council and am looking for a sponsor.
No. 4 awaits its destiny.