Selected readings on US charter schools
Four charter schools in 15 years. At a time when states throughout the nation are embracing charter schools and enrollment in them is growing rapidly, those six words – four charter schools in 15 years – make a strong statement about the charter school movement in Virginia.
Even though a fifth school is anticipated to open in the coming school year, it is still difficult to comprehend how a state could have had a charter school law for so long (15 years), yet serve so few students (fewer than 500). The answer lies in the state charter school law itself.
Virginia’s charter school law is ranked as one of the weakest in the nation by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (#39/43), and it needs improvement across the board. Whether or not those improvements are made may depend on the next governor.
With one of only two 2013 gubernatorial races in the nation (the other is in New Jersey), Virginia voters will decide this November whether former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe or current Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli will replace Gov. Bob McDonnell.
Charter schools have support in the Virginia legislature, but it’s going to take a governor to make improving its charter law a priority, which McDonnell did not do. McAuliffe’s campaign website uses a mere 122 words to describe his K-12 education platform. The words charter schools, choice or options are not found anywhere. If he does support charter schools, like many leading Democrats around the country—including President Obama–there’s no indication of it.
Cuccinelli released his detailed education plan last week. He wants to enact a “Parent Empowerment and Choice Act” for parents whose children attend failing schools. This would allow parents to make moves to close failing schools altogether, or convert them into charter schools. Cuccinelli also calls for allowing parents to enroll their students in other public school districts if their current school is failing.
Cuccinelli’s plan states that “Virginia has one of the most useless charter school laws in the country,” and adds that he would advocate for a change to the Virginia constitution that he believes is curtailing charter school growth.
Big changes always come from the top. Will Virginia finally focus on giving families more public school options? In a race that is widely seen to be a tossup, we will have to wait to find out.
Source: National Alliance for Public Charter Schools – by Russ Simnick, Senior Director of State Advocacy