Charter Pulse

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VIRGINIA: Education plan focuses on charter schools

James P. Massie IIIWe have a lot to be thankful for in Virginia with respect to the education of our children. Virginia has a very good K-12 public school system: It is the fourth best state in which to raise a family, according to Education Week magazine, and it has the finest system of public higher education in the country. The best way to continue and improve upon this record of education success is to provide parents with a wide range of competitive education options from which they may choose the best one for their children. Last year Gov. Bob McDonnell and I focused on educational improvement scholarships for low- and moderate-income families. This year we are focused on charter schools.

As parents and families take to the hallways of Virginia’s Capitol on Wednesday, it will be a visual and emotional reminder of the value families place on a good education and the growing demand in our state for more options. At an increasing rate, parents are demanding a voice in the education policy debate — no longer content to sit on the sidelines as the usual players influence policy — and McDonnell’s All Students initiative opens the door for these parents.

The students and parents will be coming together as members of PublicSchoolOptions.org, a national organization of parents, students and teachers who work to expand access to school options for children. Many residents of the commonwealth would be surprised to learn what these active parents already know — Virginia’s weak charter school policies are forcing our state to trail far behind other states when it comes to offering charter school options.

In introducing his education reform agenda, the governor has drawn attention to some disturbing statistics. While there are 5,200 public charter schools nationwide, serving 1.8 million students, there are only four charter schools in operation in Virginia.

Even students who struggle with math can recognize that four does not compare with the 72 public charter schools in Massachusetts, the 162 in Pennsylvania and the more than 500 in Florida. Fortunately, with the alliance of empowered parents, champions for school choice in the Virginia statehouse, and the governor’s constitutional amendment bill to allow the state Board of Education to authorize charter applications, 2013 is poised for change.

Authorizing more charter schools, however, is only one part of the solution to help our state regain important ground. Removing enrollment caps and other restrictions to charter school growth is an integral component of the school choice equation. Too many parents are forced to let transformative education years pass by as they sit and wait for a coveted desk to open up for their child. A variety of innovative options is also part of the solution. Each student is unique and learns in his or her own way. The one-size-fits-all approach to education has worked for many students who have thrived at their local brick-and-mortar school. But, for those students who don’t succeed in that learning environment, the value of such a lost opportunity can’t even be quantified. Whether it’s charter schools, magnet schools, virtual schools or another innovative option just emerging, there are many learning models available today to meet the individualized learning need of every student.

Active parents should be applauded for their commitment not only to their own kids, but also to kids across our state who will also benefit from expanded choice. While members of PublicSchoolOptions.org in other states have been holding these Capitol Days for several years now, this will be the first year that Virginia parents come together to lend their voices to this prominent state and national cause as they meet with elected officials to tell their personal stories.

They chose a good time to take to the Capitol. At the same time, education reform leaders and parents across the country will be coming together at celebrations and rallies as part of National School Choice Week. This annual week of events is held to raise the level of public awareness of school choice, demonstrating to the nation that the school choice movement is large and diverse.

I am inspired by Virginia’s families, and committed to their children, as parents encourage leaders to do what is best for families, for students and for the globally competitive future of our state. And what is best for students this year is expanding charter school opportunities!

Source: Times Dispatch – by Delegate James P. “Jimmie” Massie III (Represents the 72nd District (Henrico County) in Virginia’s House of Delegates)

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This entry was posted on January 27, 2013 by in Charter Schools, Reform, School choice, Virginia and tagged , .

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