Senate Passes Charter School Legislation
Yesterday the Senate passed legislation pushed for by Governor McDonnell that streamlines the application process for Charter Schools.
While the creation of more charter schools has been a priority for both Governor McDonnell and President Obama, the bill aimed at doing so in Virginia exposed a rift among Senate Democrats with half of them in favor of the legislation and the other half adamantly against it...saying the construction of new charter schools would take funds away from traditional public schools…and would create an imbalance in the education system due to the limited availability to the new schools.
Democratic Senator Mamie Locke of Hampton said she believes charter schools are not the best way to reform public education.
Mamie Locke: What we have here is a philosophical difference, on the best approach to improve public schools. For a couple of decades now there have been many efforts to undermine public schools in this country and here in Virginia, through vouchers, charter schools, home schooling and other efforts masquerading as reform, cuts in funding, programs and teachers, many public schools have been left behind, despite No Child Left Behind. Now what we have are proposals that will create a schism between the haves and the have nots. The majority of children would be left out. The future of children and their education would be relegated to a game of chance, the luck of the draw. Why can’t the money drawn from existing schools for these programs simply be used to make the public school system better?
Democratic Senator Yvonne Miller of Norfolk said new charter schools would compound the effect of cuts to public education this year.
Yvonne Miller: I am here to tell you that this bill at this time is like a kick in the gut, and the reason it’s like a kick in the gut is because we are underfunding public education and we are saying in Virginia, its ok to skim from the population that needs a high quality education and to relegate the largest part of that population to an inferior underfunded education. The education of children should be a top priority for all Virginians, not just the ones who are the recipients of the luck of the draw in a lottery.
Democratic Senator Edd Houck of Spotsylvania…who spent an entire career outside of the legislature in public education…said he supports the creation of more charter schools.
Edd Houck: We have schools right here in the commonwealth that for the past 7 years have not made adequate yearly progress. So that means those children who are in those schools, over half of those children’s lives in schools have been in schools that simply are not making the mark. I think the president is correct in trying to identify in a strong public school system, where we have some areas that need extra attention, need additional funding, not to the detriment of public schools, but to help pull up all of our public schools.
The bill eventually passed with bipartisan support on a 27-12 vote, but with all the nay votes coming from Democrats. The Senate also passed bills to help establish college partnership lab schools and to create a set of criteria for the approval of virtual classes held online.
It was announced last week that Virginia will receive none of the grant money from phase 1 of the Federal Race to the Top program, which could potentially provide hundreds of millions of dollars for charter school construction.
Governor McDonnell said the passage of these bills will make Virginia a much stronger candidate for phase 2 of the program in the fall.
In other news House and Senate Conferees missed their scheduled deadline of midnight last night to reach a budget compromise. With only four days left until they are scheduled to adjourn, the two chambers are inching slightly closer together but still far from consensus.
Craig Carper, WCVE News, Capitol Square.