In a win for school choice in West Virginia, Gov. Jim Justice signed a bill into law allowing “microschools” and “learning pods” to operate in the state without caps on their size.
Senate Bill 268 allows small schools or groups of students to combine homeschooling, private, and online school without tons of red tape.
The new law defines a microschool as “a school initiated by one or more teachers or an entity created to operate a school that charges tuition,” while learning pods are “a voluntary association of parents choosing to group their children together.” These definitions apply to grades K-12.
These microschools and learning pods provide valuable alternatives to public schooling for families who cannot afford or find a suitable private school.
Also, the state’s voucher program enables parents to use public dollars for the pods and microschools. However, the voucher program, called the Hope Scholarship, must survive its current legal challenges to open the door for these funds to become a reality.
SB268 passed 56-41 in the House of Delegates on March 11, with all Democrats voting no and three delegates absent. The House removed the Senate’s 100-student enrollment cap for each of the newly-defined alternative schools.
With just minutes left before the session’s close on March 12, the Senate accepted the changes and the bill passed 20-12. All nine Democrats voted no, expressing concern that the law provides a backdoor way for private schools to convert to these new types of schools to avoid regulation.
The bill’s supporters see it as giving parents the freedom to choose what’s right for their situation.
“I should not have to answer to where my children learn,” said Delegate Kathie Hess Crouse, who homeschools her children.
Another delegate, Caleb Hanna, also spoke of freedom. “This is a choice bill, this is a freedom bill. What a great day for students and parents across West Virginia that, you know, maybe a public education isn’t working best for them.”