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Senator proposes ‘high-risk population’ charter school to serve foster kids, homeless students

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Senator proposes ‘high-risk population’ charter school to serve foster kids, homeless students

Feb 22, 2024 | 6:00 am ET
By Amelia Ferrell Knisely
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Senator proposes ‘high-risk population’ charter school to serve foster kids, homeless students
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Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, sponsored Senate Bill 860, which would create a “high-risk population” charter school to serve students who have faced serious discipline, as well as children who are homeless and in foster care. (Will Price | West Virginia Legislative Photography)

A senator has suggested building a “high-risk population” charter school to serve students who have faced serious discipline. It would also be open to vulnerable students in foster care and those who are experiencing homelessness.

The measure, Senate Bill 860, would create the charter school within a public high school. Students couldn’t be sent there; they would have to apply for enrollment. 

Bill sponsor Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-Jefferson, said she hoped this model would encourage public school systems that have overcrowded classrooms to better help struggling students.

“The focus is on this community that needs a little bit more individualized instruction, smaller class sizes … sometimes just greater flexibility,” said Rucker, who added that she had visited similar schools in Georgia and Arizona.

“It just blew me away how amazing they’re handling this very challenging population in a very efficient manner. These students are getting the help they need.”

The Senate Committee on School Choice signed off on the legislation on Wednesday.

Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Randolph, supported the bill. 

“There are a lot of different reasons why people don’t do well in public school. There could be problems with drugs or a problem with pregnancy,” he said. “Offering people an alternative — whether it’s this or the school choice stuff we’ve done — is the best way we can possibly serve the kids of West Virginia.”

The bill said the following students would be eligible to attend the charter school: students who have been suspended more than 10 days in a school year; students who are habitually truant; wards of the court or dependents of the court; foster youth; and homeless youth.

The committee did amend the bill to remove pregnant students after Sen. Donna J. Boley, R-Pleasants, raised concerns about grouping pregnant students among those eligible. 

Public schools wishing to open a high-risk population public charter would have to obtain approval from the Charter School Board.

There are currently five charter schools in West Virginia.

The bill will head to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration. The bill did not outline how the proposed charter school would be funded.