The Virginia General Assembly is voting today on an ALEC-inspired bill to give the state board of education the power to go over the local boards of education and place charter schools in communities whether they want them or not. Pseudo-reformers don’t like democracy. They like autocracy. The American Legislative Exchange Council has drafted model legislation for exactly this kind of shift of power from local communities to the state, the better to advance privatization.

 

 

 

Virginian Rachel Levy writes (open her piece for the links):

 

Charter schools may soon be coming to Virginia communities whether those communities want them or not. This is not about whether or not to have charter schools or whether or not charter schools work. This is about power and democracy.

 

In Virginia, what’s known as the “charter school bill,” HB 3 in the Virginia House of Delegates and SB 588 in the Virginia Senate, establishes a resolution (HJ 1 and SJ R6) that will trigger a referendum on a constitutional amendment giving the Virginia State Board of Education the power to go over the heads of local school boards and establish charter schools in local communities. This resolution will be heard in the Virginia House of Delegates TODAY (Monday, February 1st, 2016), so you must contact your Delegate ASAP.

 

This resolution and accompanying legislation is before the General Assembly for the second year in a row. (I wrote about this last year here and before that I wrote about the concept, when it was the Opportunity Educational Institution, here.) Last year, it passed both chambers and, hence, if it passes this year—and as of this writing the House Privileges and Election Committee has sent it on to the House floor on a 10-9 vote—it will go onto the ballot this November. (Or maybe not this November if the Virginia GOP doesn’t think it will pass then, but I digress.)

 

“Work” is not the right way of looking at this, in any case. Like any model, some charter schools are successful and some aren’t. Some charter schools are true institutions of education, created by parents and educators, while some are real estate scams, developed by hucksters and charlatans. But given that all students are not served as they should be in public schools, I agree that conversations about the merits and disadvantages of charter schools are worth having.

 

But it is a conversation worth having among parents, citizens, educators, and educational leaders in the communities where charter schools are potentially to be located. Setting up schools in local communities is not a state matter. While many of its members are knowledgeable and passionate about K-12 education in Virginia and the Virginia State Board of Education may do a good job with the work they are tasked with, this is not their job.

 

Virginia currently has a rigorous, democratic process to establish charter schools, a process with built-in oversight, checks and balances, and accountability. Charter school proposals go before the locally, democratically elected (and in some cases, locally appointed) school boards where the charter schools are to be established. Charter schools in Virginia are overseen by these school boards and the schools are hence accountable to the public like all other public schools. Some local communities in Virginia have decided to set up charter schools. Groups in other communities have tried to set up charter schools but have not made a strong enough case to other members of their communities or to their school boards.