Education policy was the topic of Ken Cuccinelli’s statement on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s march on Washington, and it’s a policy area where we in Virginia haven’t had much in the way of bold new proposals in the past. Sure, Virginia is a signature state for homeschooling, but that simply allows parents to flee a broken system - it doesn’t actually fix the system in any way. Particularly for those who are of modest means and have both parents in the workforce, if they have both parents at home, whatever the quality of the local public schools happens to be is the only quality in education they’re likely to ever see.
Charter schools are a largely untapped possibility in Virginia to help rescue these children trapped in schools that don’t perform. Under current law, parents can band together to establish educational alternatives in their communities, but local school boards effectively have veto authority over whether that actually happens. As a result, the one hundred and eighteen localities in Virginia are served by a whopping total of five charter schools. Albemarle County accounts for two of those. There’s one in Richmond, one in Virginia Beach, and one in Yorktown. That’s it.
Putting state and local educrats in control over whether a charter school gets established is a huge mistake. The intent of having the Board of Education and a local school district regulate the establishment of charter schools was ostensibly to ensure that one of these charter schools would be able to meet minimum state standards when it came online. The effect was to allow a local school board that felt it was under pressure to perform the opportunity to prevent any demonstrations that delivering an education could be done more effectively and efficiently in their community. Supposedly the Board of Education in Richmond could provide those who want to establish a charter school an alternative approval authority, but in practice it isn’t at all any more helpful to local parents than the local school divisions. If great minds think alike, perhaps the not-so great minds do as well.
Federal and state regulations have done little more than make an education vastly more expensive to deliver without improving quality in any way, and with Common Core on the horizon that’s likely going to get distinctly worse. They’ve made companies like Pearson Education and Microsoft wealthy beyond compare while our kids bemoan the inevitable drudgery that results when a school becomes focused on nothing more than aggregate student performance on a standardized test. The Virginia Code regarding charter schools is designed to impose those same structural failures on charter schools that are currently undermining the regular public school system, so even if a charter school manages to leap the massive hurdles to be allowed to operate, it still will be shackled with the same restrictions that are partly responsible for the failures the school was designed to overcome.
As Bishop Jackson is so fond of saying, it’s time for liberty to light the way. Let parents establish charter schools and get local school boards and Richmond educrats out of the approval process. Let them be a resource to provide help rather than a hindrance to the process. Let those charter schools determine their curriculum and how it will be delivered and measured. If parents like what the school is doing, they’ll send their children there. If they don’t, they’ll go somewhere else. Will public resources be diverted from the public school system to support the charter schools based on enrollment? They should.
The educrats will whine loud and long about the money they’d be losing to charter schools. That’s too bad. If they whined about the regulations that are harming schools, if they spoke up about useless regulation and controls that harm their ability to deliver a quality education, if they yelled about how school boards might be diverting resources that could be used to reduce class sizes to erect electronic billboards, build swimming pools and construct gloriously expensive LEED Certified Energy Star facilities, I’d have the patience to listen. Instead they only whine about money, as if that’s what the point of this whole exercise was, to spend as much money as possible. By that measure, they’re terrific. The problem is, that’s not the measure.
I hope the General Assembly takes a long hard look at charter schools in Virginia this session and comes up with something that aligns with Ken Cuccinelli’s vision on education policy. If Ken is the Governor, we’ll get the reform we need in Virginia. Finally.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
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