Monday, January 28, 2013

Obenshain Comments on Senate Democrats' Opposition to Charter School Expansion

RICHMOND—Today, Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) expressed his deep disappointment with the decision of Senate Democrats to kill SJ 302, an amendment giving charter schools a chance to succeed in Virginia.

"With their vote today, Senate Democrats sided with special interests over a much more fundamental one: every child's interest in receiving a high quality education," said Obenshain.

"Charter schools are an important piece of the educational puzzle, providing new educational opportunities for over 1.5 million students nationwide. They have enjoyed broad bipartisan support in other states, and have been endorsed by Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama—but today, Senate Democrats voted in lockstep to ensure that charter schools don't have a fighting chance here in Virginia."

"Incredibly, Senator McEachin made a point of noting the long waiting list to get into Richmond's sole charter school, insisting that this strong demand was an argument against authorizing more charter schools! Let me tell you, if there's pent up demand, the solution is not to artificially restrict supply." said Obenshain, referring to comments made by Senator Donald McEachin (D-Henrico).

Senator Obenshain's Amendment, part of Governor Bob McDonnell's "ALL STUDENTS" education agenda, would have empowered the Virginia Department of Education to authorize charter schools directly. Currently, charter schools in Virginia can only be authorized by their public school division. Unfortunately, few school divisions have been willing to authorize a competing public school, even upon a strong showing of local need and a compelling operating plan.

"Florida has upwards of five hundred charter schools; Virginia has four. With today's vote, Senate Democrats proved that they're not serious about providing families with meaningful educational choices, and that's tragic," said Obenshain.

"Stanford University recently came out with three studies showing that charter school students make the equivalent of an additional two months' gains in math and reading each year," said Obenshain. "We should be champing at the bit for the opportunity to bring those sorts of results to Virginia, but instead we've put up roadblocks each step of the way. This amendment would have eliminated one of those barriers, bringing greater innovation to education in Virginia, but today, the Senate voted to keep it firmly in place."

Charter schools have enjoyed excellent results throughout the country, with more than 5,000 schools in thirty-nine states and the District of Columbia providing quality education for over 1.5 million children. "Over 365,000 students are on charter school waiting lists nationwide," said Obenshain. "People clearly want what charter schools have to offer, but our current policies make the success of charter schools almost impossible."

Charter schools work because they provide the flexibility to meet the needs of students who don't excel in more traditional school settings or who are looking for more specialized instruction. They also serve as an important outlet for children being left behind by other schools," said Obenshain.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have multiple chartering authorities. The list includes left-leaning states like New York, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan; "purple" states like Missouri, New Mexico, Ohio, Indiana, Florida, and Colorado; and right-leaning states like Utah, Idaho, and South Carolina. "Clearly this has the potential to be a great bipartisan issue," said Obenshain. "In fact, charter schools enjoy support across the spectrum, and have been championed by Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama."

"Charter schools are one of the great educational success stories of recent years, giving new hope to students in major cities like Philadelphia, New Orleans, Minneapolis, and Washington, D.C.," Obenshain continued. "They are, moreover, a bipartisan success story, the product of Democrats and Republicans working together all across the country to improve our educational system. They have been embraced by conservatives and liberals and people everywhere in between – because they work."

The fifteen states (including D.C.) with multiple authorizers have 80% of the charter schools, leaving the twenty-six with school board authorization only with just 20%. "SJ 302 was about allowing Virginia to begin developing a strong charter school system to benefit students regardless of zip code," Obenshain said. "It is difficult for me to fathom the opposition to this common sense measure, but unfortunately, it's not at all difficult to fathom the cost to our children in the Senate's continued opposition to legislation offering expanded educational opportunity for all Virginia children."

Mark Obenshain has served in the Senate of Virginia since 2004, and is a candidate for the Republican nomination for Attorney General of Virginia.


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