By law, charter schools in West Virginia have to be nonprofits. Of course, that doesn’t mean businesses that make a killing on the charter model can’t be paid to run them. It also doesn’t mean those for-profit companies can’t look for markets where they can drum up interest in their services.
For instance, it’s hard to know who has more invested in a proposed charter school in Nitro and what their real interests are. For-profit ACCEL Schools, part of private international company Pansophic Learning, hired a consultant to recruit board members to oversee the proposed charter, Nitro Preparatory Academy, according to a story from Gazette-Mail education reporter Ryan Quinn.
A company that might be hired to run a school that doesn’t exist yet hiring a consultant to find board members seems a little backward. At least one of those members, Cassie Miller, daughter-in-law of Rep. Carol Miller, R-W.Va., indicated that she was recruited for the position. Shouldn’t board members be made up of people who have an interest in the school?
Of the five board members the consultant picked, none of them live in Nitro. In fact, three, including Miller, live in Huntington, about 45 miles down Interstate 64. That doesn’t mean they have no vested interest in the proposed school or its educational success, but it certainly raises the question.
The proposed K-8 charter school would be located in the old Nitro High School building, across a parking lot from Nitro Elementary, and a seven-minute drive from Rock Branch Elementary, one of the top three public schools in the state. It also would be within a 15-minute drive from four public middle schools.
It sure seems like the school is setting up shop where it could draw enrollment, which means money for the charter and diverted public funds for those public schools, which already are seeing dropping enrollment and losing money because of it.
So, as always when looking at charter schools, the question is whether this is about education options or profit. Often, when an outside agency is showing such interest in West Virginia, it’s the latter. But this is what the state signed up for when, earlier this year, the Legislature passed a charter school law so wide open that even pro-charter organizations disavowed it.
There’s no question that education in West Virginia has to improve, but opening the state up to companies that could be looking more at dollar figures and markets to exploit than children to educate, especially when the data on charter schools is so mixed, isn’t the answer.