CHARLESTON — Thomas Diddy, a retired teacher with 30 years experience, believes West Virginia already offers plenty of private schooling opportunities for its students, and the last thing the state needs is charter schools.
Diddy’s comments came during a public hearing Wednesday on House Bill 206, which would set a cap of 10 authorized and operating charter schools throughout the state, if passed. Legislators are set to offer amendments to the bill Wednesday afternoon, when it will also be up for passage.
“We need to improve the schools we have,” Diddy said, “and until we improve families, we won’t improve the schools.”
The West Virginia Senate’s omnibus education bill, dubbed the “Student Success Act,” was assigned Monday to one of four House select committees on education, Committee C; however, that committee advanced its own version of the bill, H.B. 206, which was then advanced by the full House.
Those who spoke against the bill during Wednesday’s public hearing spoke mostly against charter schools and the provision within the bill regarding seniority. H.B. 206 would establish a start date for the purposes of seniority, and require the opinions of the faculty senate and principal as qualifications for transfer.
Wendy Peters, co-president of the Raleigh County Education Association, spoke avidly against the bill. She said if charter schools are put in place, children with special needs will not receive West Virginia Policy 2419, which is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a piece of legislation ensuring students with a disability are provided with free public education tailored to their individual needs.
“I have some concerns about this bill, some grave concerns,” Peters said. “I think we’re jumping into something we do not need to jump into, without doing thorough research. Statistics are showing charter schools are not the answer.”
Nichole McCormick, president of the Mercer County Education Association, asked the crowd and legislators why anyone would vote for the piece of legislation.
“Who are you listening to?” McCormick, a music teacher, asked. “It’s certainly not us.”
McCormick shared with the crowd efforts teachers make to go out their way to help their students, including buying lunch for children, and even prom tickets so they don’t miss out.
“We are the experts,” McCormick said. “We are the ones who live this everyday life.”
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, asked legislators before they vote on the bill, to look in the eyes of those sitting in the galleries in the House of Delegates chambers.
Lee pointed up to educators and said, “These people are here today because they want to make a difference for our students. Look into their eyes — do what they say you need to do to help public education.
“They’re the experts,” Lee said. “They have demanded, not twice, but three times that their voices be heard.”
While many spoke against the bill, there were still a few who spoke in favor of it.
Jessi Troyan, an employee of the Cardinal Institute, which has been an advocate for school choice since the 2019 legislative session, compared education to a Rubik’s Cube. She said education has various challenges, and fixing only one side of it will not fix it for all.
“Completing the solid on one side of the Rubik’s Cube doesn’t solve the whole puzzle,” Troyan said, and encouraged those to vote in favor of the bill.
Doug Douglas was also one of the few advocates who spoke for “school choice” during the public hearing.
“I don’t care about slogans or chants, I don’t care about posters, and I don’t care about Mitch Carmichael,” Douglas said. “What I do care about is my son, and the options that are available to him.”
Douglas said education reform boils down to one thing — accountability.
“We need more of that,” he said.