Fathers Sue West Virginia Officials Over Charter School Law

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Two West Virginia fathers are suing state officials over a law that allows charter schools to open without the approval of local voters, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.

The lawsuit filed this past week in Kanawha County Circuit Court claims the law is unconstitutional and asks the judge to stop a newly created West Virginia Professional Charter School Board from authorizing any schools.

The suit comes after Republican state lawmakers in March amended an earlier charter school law, making it easier for them to win approval. The amendments created the Professional Charter School Board, which can approve both online charters that operate statewide and brick-and-mortar charter schools operating in individual districts. Those schools can be approved even in counties where the local boards of education are opposed to them.

The Professional Charter School Board is unelected. Instead, members are appointed by the governor and then confirmed or rejected by the state Senate. The four proposed board members are currently awaiting confirmation, even as they review applications to open new schools.

Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run, tuition-free public schools that usually do not have to abide by the same rules and regulations as traditional public schools. So far, seven charter school applications have been filed with the Professional Charter School Board. None have been filed with the local school boards, despite the law still allowing that route.

The two fathers who are suing over the new law are both public school teachers and teachers’ union members. Defendants in the case include Gov. Jim Justice and the leaders of the House of Delegates and Senate.

The lawsuit cites a section of the state constitution that says, “no independent free school district, or organization shall hereafter be created, except with the consent of the school district or districts out of which the same is to be created, expressed by a majority of the voters voting on the question.”

The suit calls the right to vote on matters relating to public schools “a defining democratic virtue.”

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, and Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, declined comment to the newspaper. The governor’s office did not reply to a request for comment.