CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Following a nearly weeklong delay on final passage stage, the state Senate approved the bill creating the path for public charter schools Monday evening on a party line 18-16 vote.

The Charter Schools Act (SB14) would allow county school boards to establish charter schools that would be characterized by flexibility in curriculum and instruction.

“I’m excited that West Virginia may have an opportunity for some more flexibility and creativity in the delivery of education,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Dave Sypolt (R-Preston) said in a statement released after the vote. “It has been a long process and engendered much negotiation and compromise. I think every step of the way the bill kept getting better.”

But Democrats in the Senate heavily criticized the bill during floor speeches.

Senator Bill Laird (D-Fayette) said the nation was founded on the principle that everyone should have an equal opportunity to succeed. He said the public charter school plan takes that away from many students.

“In our public school system it’s important that our children know that no matter who you are, who your parents may or may not be, or where you come from, you can indeed make it,” Laird said.

Senator John Unger said charter schools would cherry pick the best teachers and students with the most support at home and would create an unequal public education system.

“Are we truly making it luck for children in West Virginia to get an education? The lottery is in this bill,” Unger argued.

Former Senate Education Committee Chairman Bob Plymale (D-Wayne) said he had hoped to use an existing tool, innovation zones, to accomplish some of the same things charter schools have accomplished.

The bill limits the number of charter schools to two per year and no more than 10 charter schools in the first five years. Forty-two other states already have charter school programs.

The bill now heads to the House of Delegates.