CHARLESTON — An attempt by Republican members of the West Virginia Senate on Friday to expand capacity for micro-schools and learning modules has become a debate over public versus private education.
The Senate passed Senate Bill 268 on Friday morning, creating a mandatory school attendance exemption for children who attend learning modules or micro-schools. The bill passed 21-13. Sen. Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur, and Sen. David Stover, R-Wyoming, voted with the Democratic minority against the bill.
The Republican majority passed several amendments to SB 268, including an amendment by Senate Education Committee Chair Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, that expands the capacity of a learning module or a micro-school up to 100 students.
An amendment by Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, would allow learning modules and micro-schools to submit composite academic assessment scores to county school superintendents instead of submitting those scores for each student. An amendment by Sen. Michael Romano, D-Harrison, would require learning pods and micro-schools with students requiring special instruction to install video cameras in classrooms.
Learning Pods are defined as a voluntary association of parents choosing to group their children together to participate in K-12 education as an alternative to enrolling in public schools, private schools and school at the House. A micro-school is a paying school initiated by one or more teachers.
“Homeschooling is when a parent decides to educate their own child,” Rucker said. “In a micro-school or learning modules, it is possible that someone other than the parent educates the child.”
An unsuccessful amendment proposed by Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, would have required learning pods and micro-schools to follow the same health and safety rules required for private schools, parochial and denominational. These include fire, health and safety inspections and having crisis response plans.
Speaking against the bill, Baldwin said SB 268 provides the same capabilities as private schools, including similar capabilities, without requiring the same level of security required for private schools.
“That’s exactly how private schools do it,” Baldwin said. “If he walks like a duck. I feel like I’m in Bizarro World. This is exactly what private schools do. We are talking about the same size. We’re talking about a lot of people here together without basic parameters.
Sen. Randy Smith, R-Tucker, said SB 268 is another tool in a parent’s toolbox, along with public charter schools and the Hope Scholarship savings account program. Both of these programs face legal challenges.
“It’s not that bad, people,” Smith said. “It’s something we have to try. If it doesn’t work, we’ll change it. But we beat a dead horse to death. Let’s try.
“What we’re talking about here is an unregulated school system,” Romano said in response to Smith. “Parents who don’t want to take the time to homeschool their children will be able to form groups where they dump their children, and who knows what will happen to them under this program.”
SB 268 now heads to the House of Delegates for further consideration.
Steven Allen Adams can be contacted at [email protected]