Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Senator Mark Obenshain's Charter School Amendment (SJ 256) Passes General Assembly

Amendment to Encourage Charter School Expansion

 RICHMOND—Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) expressed his gratitude that his constitutional amendment giving  charter schools a chance to succeed in Virginia passed the House of Delegates today. 

 "New York City has 197 public charter schools while Virginia only has seven statewide. If we're serious about providing  families with meaningful educational choices, then that has to change," said Obenshain. "I commend my colleagues in the  House of Delegates for passing such an important measure.  I especially want to thank Delegate Rob Bell (R-Albemarle)  who has worked diligently on this issue as well."

 Obenshain's SJ 256 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.

 "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.

 A recent American Federation for Children poll notes that almost 70% of American support school choice.  It also  reported that 81% of Republicans and 60% of Democrats support school choice.  Obenshain added, "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.  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."

 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."

 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 256 will allow Virginia to begin developing a strong charter school  system to benefit students regardless of zip code," Obenshain said.

 This is an historic first step towards amending the Virginia Constitution to reform Virginia's charter school process,  allowing more charter schools in Virginia.  The constitutional amendment must pass the General Assembly twice in  succeeding years.  Resolutions, unlike most bills, do not go to the Governor for approval so it cannot be vetoed.  If the  resolution passes next year it will be submitted to the voters in the November 2016 general election for approval.  This is  the first charter school constitutional amendment to ever receive "first year" approval.

 Senator Obenshain represents the twenty-sixth district in the Virginia Senate.  The district includes the city of  Harrisonburg and  the counties of Warren, Shenandoah, Page, Rappahannock and Rockingham (part).