Amendment to Encourage Charter School Expansion
RICHMOND—Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) expressed his gratitude to the Senate Committee on Privileges and Elections, which he chairs, for reporting his constitutional amendment giving charter schools a chance to succeed in Virginia during their meeting yesterday afternoon. The Amendment is part of Governor Bob McDonnell's "ALL STUDENTS" education agenda.
"Florida has upwards of five hundred charter schools; Virginia has four. If we're serious about providing families with meaningful educational choices, then that has to change."
Obenshain's SJ 302 empowers 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.
"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 eliminates one of those barriers, bringing greater innovation to education in Virginia.
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 twenty percent. "SJ 302 will allow Virginia to begin developing a strong charter school system to benefit students regardless of zip code," Obenshain said.
ON THE WEB:
SJ 302: http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?131+sum+SJ302