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From the Front Row: Kaye Kory's Richmond Report

By Kaye Kory

Published by the Falls Church News-Press on February 11, 2016

Throughout this session to date, the House of Delegates continues to attempt to erode local control of public education – not only local control of the establishment of charter schools, but to usurp local control of both state and local money dedicated to local public education as well.

As you know, last year the General Assembly passed a Constitutional Amendment mandating that the State Board of Education have sole authority to establish charter schools in any school division in Virginia. Constitutional Amendments must be passed by two sessions of the General Assembly, and those sessions must be separated by an election.

The same Constitutional Amendment is now before the full House of Delegates for a second passage. The bill (HB3) adds to Section 5 of Article VIII, under the heading ‘Powers and Duties of the Board of Education’, this language, “Subject to such criteria and conditions as the General Assembly may prescribe”, the Board of Education has “the authority to establish charter schools within the school divisions of the Commonwealth.” This is in direct contradiction to Section 7 of Article VIII, which states, “…the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.”

If HB3 passes, the State School Board will be able to force a locality to accept snd fund a charter school in spite of the decisions of the local School Board and the voters who elect them. Overriding local School Board decisions regarding charter schools has been tried in years past, mostly under the McDonnell administration. Now this power grab has returned in a different and more threatening form.

You know that I support establishing public charter schools when a local School Board has made that decision. I do not support transferring the local School Board’s authority to do so to an appointed body, i.e. the State School Board, which is not accountable to taxpaying voters. The falsehood that Virginia needs more charter schools still drives many legislative decisions in the General Assembly. It is clear that a number of the members of the House and Senate do not trust the voters who elected them to elect responsible and representative School Boards. That lack of trust extends to changing the Constitution to ensure that the voters’ opinions make no difference when it comes to establishing charter schools.

And just in case the amendment fails to pass the General Assembly or to pass at the polls this November, HB565 has been introduced. HB535 declares that “If a local School Board denies a public charter application, The [State] Board may review and may grant such application..” This bill also gives the State Board of Education the power to establish a public charter school within a school division. Although not spelled out in HB565, the discussion at the subcommittee meeting when considering the bill mentioned that the money should follow the child and that money should be both state and local education monies. If passed, this bill seems to accomplish the same end that the Constitutional Amendment is designed to accomplish. Talk about outrageous government overreach! Teachers, principals, and superintendents from all over the state objected to this bill, but were brushed aside. If the voters do not pass HB3, HB565 will force state control of charter schools upon localities anyway.

The power of the governing body closest to the people has always been upheld as the Virginia Way and should remain that way. Please lobby your Delegates and Senators to oppose these bills.